Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced the creation of an Acceleration Unit that will create jobs, increase connectivity, and boost the economy by ensuring transport infrastructure projects will be delivered more quickly.
A new team of specialists will join the Department for Transport (DfT) in order to tackle delays to infrastructure projects and drive forward progress for passengers.
Set to be in place next month, the new unit will be directly accountable to the Transport Secretary. It will be led by Darren Shirley, currently Chief Executive of the Campaign for Better Transport and formerly of Which? Magazine.
Alongside the Acceleration Unit, the Transport Secretary has announced a raft of ambitious upgrades to Wales’ railways, with £343 million of investment to deliver better, faster, more reliable journeys for passengers.
This includes kickstarting design work on plans to upgrade Cardiff Central station and funding to develop plans for upgraded cutting-edge digital signalling on the 241-kilometre Cambrian line from Shrewsbury Sutton Bridge Junction to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli, and proposals to speed up journeys between Cardiff and Swansea, Chester and Llandudno Junction, and the Severn Tunnel and Cardiff.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “As Britain begins to get moving once again after 4 months of lockdown, no-one should underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead.
“We want to accelerate Britain’s recovery by investing in vital infrastructure that will help get businesses back on their feet, create jobs to replace those that have been lost and level up our country.
“The creation of our new Acceleration Unit and investment in our roads and railways will ensure we build back better, greener and faster in the future.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, added: This £360 million investment in our roads and railways will help drive our economic recovery from coronavirus – creating jobs and levelling-up by ensuring businesses across all corners of the UK have the opportunities they need to grow.
The new head of the Acceleration Unit, Darren Shirley, said: “I am delighted to take on this important new role, bringing a fresh perspective and external advice to accelerate the delivery of key infrastructure projects and programmes.
“The breadth and depth of expertise in my new team will stand us in a good stead as we look to deliver the schemes that will help the country to rebuild faster through decarbonising the transport system and levelling up Britain as we emerge from the Coronavirus crisis.”
The Acceleration Unit will also engage experts with significant experience in delivering infrastructure projects. One will be Highways England’s director of complex infrastructure projects, Chris Taylor, who oversaw the construction of the £1.5 billion A14 scheme which was not only delivered on budget but eight months ahead of schedule. Another is set to be Mark Reynolds, chief executive of Mace, which oversaw the construction of the Nightingale hospital in East London in nine days.
The creation of the team follows the establishment of a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council, dedicated to swiftly levelling up infrastructure across the North’s towns and cities, forming a direct link between Westminster and local leaders.
The Transport Secretary has also unveiled a host of further road and rail investments today, including:
- £1.1 million investment for Network Rail to develop short-term plans to relieve overcrowding at London Liverpool Street station;
- Funding to complete the £6.4 million scheme to build a new second footbridge serving all 4 platforms at St Albans City station, easing congestion and addressing safety issues at an increasingly busy station with work due to start early 2021 and be complete by January 2022;
- £4 million to develop the design phase for gauge enhancement and track improvements for freight trains on Great Western, Midland Main Lines and at Darlington to allow longer intermodal freight trains to operate from Teesport to Yorkshire, with the Darlington scheme delivered by October 2020;
- £9.74 million for signalling and infrastructure enhancements delivered on the Wessex route at Twickenham, Bracknell and Virginia Water as part of the Feltham and Wokingham Signalling Renewal Programme, which will help improve the reliability and flexibility of services starting from Easter 2021.