Darren Shirley, whose CV includes campaigning roles at Greenpeace, National Energy Action, WWF and Which? (the Consumers Association), has been named head of the transport secretary’s new acceleration unit.
The acceleration unit is described as a team of specialists seconded to the Department for Transport (DfT) “to tackle delays to infrastructure projects and drive forward progress for passengers”.
The use of the word ‘passengers’ suggests that road projects are not within its scope.
Darren Shirley is currently chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport. He moves to the Department for Transport at the end of September. Despite his lack of any relevant experience, Darren Shirley said that he would bring “a fresh perspective”.
Fortunately, his team in the acceleration unit will include at least two people who do know about getting things built: Mark Reynolds, chief executive of Mace, and Highways England director of complex infrastructure projects Chris Taylor are on board as advisors.
Mark Reynolds appears to be the government’s favourite construction industry executive these days. He is also the skills lead on its Construction Leadership Council and is closely associated with the development of the emerging freeports policy initiative.
Alongside the acceleration unit, the transport secretary today announced plans for £343m of investment in Welsh railways.
This includes £5.8m for design work on an upgrade to Cardiff Central station and £3m for planning digital signalling on the 241km Cambrian line from Shrewsbury Sutton Bridge Junction to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli.
In addition, almost £2m has been made available for the next phase of development work on proposals to speed up journeys between Cardiff and Swansea, Chester and Llandudno Junction, and the Severn Tunnel and Cardiff, through better-aligned tracks and exploring putting additional services on the lines.
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.”
Darren Shirley, head of the acceleration unit, 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.”
Matthew Fell, policy director at the Confederation of British Industries (CBI), said: "Business will welcome government's commitment to put infrastructure delivery at the heart of the UK's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The right programmes of transport investment will not only help the UK economy build back better, but will help drive regional prosperity, boost connectivity and provide crucial support to the UK construction sector, giving them the confidence to retain jobs and invest for the future.
"The establishment of a new acceleration unit is also positive news and can help ensure that government moves quickly from promises of investment to action. Now it will be vital that this new team works collaboratively with industry, focusing not just on speed but delivering sustainable, high-quality transport improvements which will provide long-term value for communities across the UK."