The March 2021 budget was, unsurprisingly, focused on the financial aftermath of COVID19.  There was, however, still plenty of interesting news for the transport sector.  Here’s a quick round-up of the main points.

Fuel duty was frozen (again)

Given that fuel duty has been frozen since 2009, any rise would probably have been major news.  Realistically, it had to be a possibility.  Firstly, the government needs to find a way to cover the cost of the Coronavirus.  Secondly, the government has committed to making the UK carbon-neutral by 2050.

On the other hand, 2050 is still (almost) 30 years away.  Right now, heavier vehicles simply cannot function on electricity.  Even if it is technically possible, the UK is a long way off having the charging infrastructure to make it a practical reality.

What’s more, the pandemic has disrupted public transport.  This may have left some people with little option but to rely on personal vehicles, especially if they are in at-risk groups.  Of course, this may change in future.  In fact, at a rail-industry conference, Boris Johnson indicated that he expected commuting to resume in fairly short order.

This means that fuel duty may well be targeted in a future budget.  For the time being, however, the government’s share of fuel prices will stay the same.

No explicit news on electric infrastructure

The chancellor did not give any explicit news on the government’s plans regarding either developing charging infrastructure or implementing ALKS.  There were, however, a couple of possible hints.

Firstly there was the announcement of a new “infrastructure bank”.  This will have 12b in capital and will be tasked with helping to fund up to £40b of public and private infrastructure projects.  Secondly, there was the introduction of new NS&I “green bonds”.  These are specifically to help the government meet its carbon target and so could feasibly be used to finance the development of electric infrastructure.

Support for hydrogen fuel

The government did pledge £4.8m for the creation of a hydrogen hub in Holyhead.  This is, however, dependent on a business case being approved.

HS2 is still go

This is unlikely to be a surprise, given that the government has had ample opportunity to cancel it.  Only time will tell how much the final bill will be.  The government has, however, committed £50m to develop proposals to improve the transport facilities around Birmingham Interchange Station.

There is also money for various smaller rail projects including £59m for five new stations in the West Midlands, over £40m restart passenger services on the Okehampton-Exeter line and up to £30m for a rolling stock and infrastructure testing complex in Wales.

Project Speed announced

The construction of the A66 Trans-Pennine upgrade should now begin in 2024 thanks to £135m in development funding.  It is due to be completed within five years rather than ten as originally planned.  There was also substantial funding for areas outside London.  Scotland, Wales and NI received £1.2b, £740m and £410m respectively, plus there is a £1 fund to support regeneration throughout England.

At present, it is unclear how much of this (technically if any) will be spent on improving transport infrastructure.  It does, however, seem reasonable to assume that at least a portion of it will be used for this purpose.

Eight new freeports

Putting it mildly, the UK’s departure from the EU has led to challenges at ports.  There are basically only two ways to address these.  One is to make procedures more efficient.  The other is to create more space for them to happen so any delays have less of an impact.

The creation of eight new freeports should hopefully help with the latter goal.  The new freeports are due to be at East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside.


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