Net-zero progress ‘impeded’ by government indecision, NIC says | Construction News

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Delay in implementing changes to the infrastructure system has hit the UK’s net-zero ambitions, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has said.

In its latest annual review, published this week, the commission warned that the sluggish UK roll-out of heat-pumps – caused by increased uncertainty around the system – was holding back the country.

NIC chair John Armitt said there were “big decisions ahead for government”, pointing to the recommendations from the second national infrastructure assessment, which the NIC released in October.

Armitt said the next five years will be a “critical period for making decisions on things that are of immediate concern to the public – the three Ps of prices, potholes and pollution”.

The government is set to respond to the recommendations from the national infrastructure assessment in the coming months, and a revised national infrastructure strategy is expected.

The NIC stressed that “major changes” to planning laws for the energy sector could remove key constraints to the net-zero project.

It added that last-minute policy changes have created uncertainty and weakened the incentives behind installing heat pumps for customers. The UK Government has committed to installing 800,000 heat pumps across the country by 2028, a goal it is set to miss.

The government delayed plans to implement the Clean heat market mechanism – a programme aimed at using renewable sources to power heating in the UK – until 2026, when it will decide whether to make a decision on using hydrogen in the UK. This “compounds the uncertainty”, Armitt said.

The NIC also reiterated its support for onshore wind projects, and acknowledged the government had changed the planning system to get projects approved more quickly.

But Armitt said the changes “are not sufficient” for onshore wind to meet its potential.

“This is impeding deployment of one of the cheapest renewable technologies,” the report states. “Onshore wind should be brought back into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project system, as well as being treated in the same way as other technologies in the local planning system.”

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) interim associate director of policy David Hawkes said: “There are lots of questions about how the UK is going to pay for the infrastructure it needs and deliver positive outcomes for the public when, in real terms, capital spending for 2025/26 will not increase.

“Inaction will mean the public will pay more in the long run, and these challenges aren’t going away.”

He also called on the Treasury Select Committee to hold a one-off evidence session so that ministers could respond to the NIC’s recommendations.

A government spokesperson said: “We’re making sure we have the infrastructure we need to grow the economy, improve people’s lives, and tackle climate change – having already increased electricity generated from renewable sources to nearly half in 2023, giving more powers to cities to build the transport they need, and providing billions to tackle potholes up and down the country.”

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