In a particularly downbeat Budget, where knocking a penny off the price of a pint of beer was greeted with such enthusiasm by a nation resigned to drowning its economic sorrows, there was £3bn found to invest in Britain's creaking infrastructure.
This isn't a huge amount, but as British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace (inset, right) says, at least that wasn't £3bn taken away from rebuilding Britain's creaking roads, tunnels and railways.
Moreover, it reaffirms the Coalition's commitment to using infrastructure as the main way of kickstarting an economy that is showing such few signs of revival.
In a piece of triumphalism, Chancellor George Osborne declared: "We can provide the economy with the infrastructure it needs. We're already supporting the largest programme of investment in our railways since Victorian times – and spending more on new roads than in a generation.
"We're giving Britain the fastest broadband and mobile telephony in Europe."
Central to all of this is the National Infrastructure Plan, a guide to 40 of the biggest initiatives that the Coalition is hoping will stimulate growth. An update on the progress of these schemes was provided alongside the Budget – and here, The Independent on Sunday distils exactly where the Treasury believes it is at with these grand projects.
Arguably the key policy for roadbuilding and maintenance, privatising the Highways Agency was not included in the Budget and is now thought unlikely to become official policy until the next government is formed. However, the last of the eight roadbuilding schemes that were announced before David Cameron entered No 10 will finish this spring. Financing options are under consideration to resolve congestion issues along the A14 corridor in Cambridgeshire.
Final approval for the long-mooted Mersey Gateway to prevent the seemingly endless traffic jams on the Silver Jubilee Bridge that links Runcorn with Widnes should happen this autumn. However, there are criticisms that the steel could be sourced as far away as South Korea and therefore not benefit the local workforce. Construction on the new Lower Thames Crossing, which will link Kent and Essex, is expected to start in 2013-14.
Thames Tideway Tunnel
Last month, a development consent order went into the planning inspectorate for what will be the longest tunnel ever constructed in the capital at 15 miles. The environment and local communities departments are expected to grant planning permission next summer, with the procurement process starting in the next few months. Final contracts are not likely to be awarded until the end of 2014. The scheme is essentially a giant sewer.
Over two miles of tunnelling on a £14.8bn railway that will link east and west London has taken place since the Autumn Statement. This is currently the biggest construction project in Europe and will start carrying an estimated 200 million passengers a year from 2018. It was recently announced that the trains will now be fully paid for by the taxpayer, a £1bn contribution rather than the £350m initially proposed.
High Speed Two
The Budget ignored that there are already issues with the cost of HS2, the hugely controversial rail project that critics say will ruin the English countryside and supporters praise for dramatically cutting journey times. However, the HS2 team has pushed on, announcing the route for the second phase of the project north of London. A "paving Bill" put before Parliament will soon let Government accelerate spending on HS2.
Never again will Wales suffer the embarrassment of being named alongside Albania and Moldova as the only European countries without an electrified railway. Earlier this month, the transport department announced that it was spending £704m to upgrade the Great Western main line between Cardiff, Bristol and Didcot. In January, Network Rail also announced the electrification of London to Swansea trains. The Kings Cross station improvements are expected to be finished at the end of the year.
In the Autumn Statement, which was actually announced in December, the Government announced that it would issue a guarantee to support the Greater London Authority's borrowing to extend the Northern Line to Battersea Power Station. The Victoria Line upgrade was finished in January, which increased the number of trains during peak hours from 30 to 33. Contactless card payment was also introduced on London buses last year.
There was nothing on sorting out the mess over whether to expand Heathrow or build a huge new hub airport in the South-East, nor will there be until after the next election at this rate. However, Gatwick and Heathrow are both receiving major investment, the former two-thirds of the way through a £1.26bn programme that will complete next March. Heathrow's Terminal 2A was declared weather tight at the start of the year.
The biggest port project in the offing is DP World's London Gateway, 25 miles from the capital. Last week it was confirmed that the project will open in the fourth quarter and rival nearby Felixstowe. The first port equipment was delivered to the site earlier this month. Liverpool 2 is due to be built by 2015, adding an extra 500,000 containers to the city's port.
The 4G spectrum auction fetched far less than the Government had hoped – and, embarrassingly, had even accounted for – but five companies were at least awarded licences on 1 March. Services using 4G are expected to be launched in early summer, while a contractor to start rolling out rural broadband should be appointed in May. The £150m programme for ultra-fast broadband in high-growth cities is expected by 2015.
The big question remains nuclear, although Energy Secretary Ed Davey did give planning permission for a new power plant at Hinkley Point last week. Osborne had hoped to provide an update on financial negotiations with EDF over the deal that will see the first civil nuclear plant since 1995 built at the Somerset site. However, talks are delicately balanced while the Government is now looking into carbon capture and storage investment.
Energy suppliers are obliged to have installed smart meters in homes across the country by 2019. The roll-out starts next year and are designed to help customers save energy just as industry leaders are warning of impending black-outs. More importantly, they will help keep bills down as electricity prices are on the up and families are struggling for cash.
The insurance industry has moaned for years that governments have failed to build the defences needed to protect homes build on flood plains – largely because they end up picking up the costs. However, the Coalition recently announced plans for 93 flood defences which will start to be built in 2013-14, providing better protection for more than 64,000 homes. Schemes started this year include those in Leeds, Exeter and Derby.Reuse content