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Photo: Marcus Dawson/Network Rail

UK: The formation of an ‘Acceleration Unit’ to speed up the delivery of transport projects was announced by Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps on August 21.

The new team is to be in place at the Department for Transport next month, and will be directly accountable to the Secretary of State. It will be led by Darren Shirley, currently Chief Executive of the Campaign for Better Transport and formerly of Which? magazine.

gb-Darren Shirley outside Farringdon Station

Darren Shirley is to lead the Acceleration Unit.

The acceleration unit will engage specialists with significant experience in delivering infrastructure projects, including Chris Taylor, Highways England’s Director of Complex Infrastructure projects, and Mark Reynolds of Mace, who oversaw the construction of the Nightingale hospital in east London.

‘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’, said Shirley. ‘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.’

Responding to Shapps’ announcement, Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, said ‘speeding up rail projects is a clear way in which the government can spur green economic growth, jobs and investment around the UK following the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak. RIA and our members look forward to working with this new unit, particularly to speed up the 58 rail enhancement projects the government has direct control of, as our “Speed Up Rail Enhancements” campaign has been calling for.’

Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations & Regions for the Rail Delivery Group, said ‘putting investment in rail on the fast track is good news for communities and businesses across Britain. Rail companies will continue to work together to deliver vital improvements to make our railway greener and support job creation.’

Midlands Connect Director Maria Machancoses said ‘if it is to be truly successful, the new Acceleration Unit must empower transport bodies to develop large schemes more quickly, moving them from concept, to evidence gathering and design, ensuring they are shovel ready faster. Only when funding, political will and expertise go hand in hand can we enact the change we need to deliver an infrastructure revolution and with it, projects like High Speed 2 and Midlands Engine Rail. The development of a strong pipeline of schemes will be ever more important as the UK looks to reboot its economy following the effects of Covid-19. We look forward to engaging with the Department for Transport in making this happen.’

Senior Assistant General Secretary of the RMT union Mick Lynch said ‘whilst we welcome the government having a renewed focus on speeding up the investment, building and reopening of vital rail links, it is nonsensical that this new Transport Acceleration Unit will predominantly focus on new roads when we are in the midst of a climate crisis. Rather than prioritise a multi-billion pound road building programme that will only serve to accelerate climate change, this government should be using those billions to invest in our railways to ensure they have the future resilience to withstand our changing climate and the extreme weather that creates.’