The loss of Adonis is a second blow to the county’s growth plans. Who will replace him?

Few voters will notice the resignation of Andrew Adonis as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). Not many will know what NIC did. More people will have heard of Lord Heseltine, though outside Manchester and Liverpool, few may understand how important he has been to regeneration of urban areas. He was sacked for disobeying Theresa May over Brexit. Adonis resigned over Brexit and his disillusionment wit May’s government.

This country is rapidly running out of expert champions for regeneration, building infrastructure and growing the economy.

Surely the needs for regeneration and housing should rise above day-to-day political infighting?

When he was sacked after voting against the government on Brexit last March, Tory grandee Michael Heseltine was chair of the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission. Afterwards, the commission drifted rudderless for six months. Just before Christmas, the commission announced its priorities under its new chair, Sir John Armitt, the man who built the Olympic Park. These priorities have no punch. They talk of centres of excellence, skills, transport infrastructure and housing. These are motherhood and apple pie issues. An undergraduate could have written them. The commission has not made a significant step forward since it issued a call for ideas under Heseltine in July 2016. It has become an administrative rather than visionary body.

Heseltine had vision. That’s why he did so well in Liverpool and Manchester.

Lord Adonis is of the opposite political persuasion to Heseltine, though not over Brexit. He shares the same vision for providing the housing we need and the same enthusiasm for infrastructure. Adonis can be proud of the achievements of the Commission on the East West Arc between Oxford and Cambridge.

At the age of 84, Heseltine is a Conservative grandee. No one would blame him for taking a back seat in public life but that doesn’t seem to be his style. It is perhaps time that someone else stood in his shoes but we have not found that champion. Adonis is thirty years younger but he now seems to be on the infrastructural sidelines. Who will replace him?

The government is briefing that Adonis quit before he was pushed. That may well be true. He had become a vocal critic of the government’s performance in the north, the way that transport secretary Chris Grayling and his predecessors have handled the East Coast rail franchise and, of course, of the EU Withdrawal Bill and Brexit.

If it is true that Adonis was about to be sacked, it is likely that Adonis’s successor is already known. There is no prospect of a return of Heseltine, with several MPs demanding that he lose the Tory whip after he claimed having Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street would be less damaging than Brexit. We also now know, if we did not before, that Theresa May’s government is intolerant of dissenters, even in so-called independent bodies like the National Infrastructure Commission.

Sir John Armitt is the deputy chair of the NIC. He would be an obvious choice after the success of the Olympics. He is a champion of innovation. But he has yet to make headway on the Thames Estuary project.

Waiting in the wings perhaps is Sir Howard Davies. A man with an impeccable economic pedigree, he chaired the Airports Commission towards its destiny of recommending a third runway at Heathrow. His role on the commission attracted controversy as he also sat on the board of an insurance giant that stood to benefit from expansion of the airport.

Davies could bring analytical skills to the task of building infrastructure in the way that Adonis has. He does not have the political gravitas of Heseltine but he is sure footed and astute in operating in difficult political contexts.

If we are to build enough housing and connect enough places, we need strong leadership. That can’t come from here today, gone tomorrow ministers. Or civil servants with little experience of the realities of planning and construction.

The public will barely notice who the next chair of NIC will be. But it will be one of the most important appointments if we are to build the infrastructure and housing we need. The successor to Adonis must work in the political sphere, as well understanding the contortions of the planning system and the increasingly overstretched construction sector.

Theresa May, currently on the brink of a cabinet reshuffle, has shown herself not to be wise in her choice of advisers, two of whom were sacked after the election, and cabinet ministers, three of whom have resigned after scandals.

The danger is that we will no longer have any champions that can grasp the broader picture of infrastructure development across the UK. If we are to have development, and we need it, it should be led with vision and implemented with innovation.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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  • Simon McGrath 2nd Jan '18 - 9:25am

    isnt the logic of your comment: “Surely the needs for regeneration and housing should rise above day-to-day political infighting” , that Adonis should have stayed on rather than quit over brexit ?

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Jan '18 - 9:48am

    Adonis did not quit over Brexit. He saw the writing on the wall and timed his departure appropriately at a slow news time when he would get a bit more impact than otherwise.

    The issue ought to be: “How come the government is so un-committed to co-ordinated infrastructure investment and development that it sidelines the issue under a come-day, go-day ‘independent’ person, however able?” It ought to be a direct responsibility of a Secretary of State, accountable every six months or so to a Select Committee of the House of Commons.

  • Christopher Curtis 2nd Jan '18 - 9:50am

    Appointments are made on the basis of blind faith and loyalty rather than competence and likely effectiveness. A sad state of affairs.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Jan '18 - 9:56am

    ” Theresa May’s government is intolerant of dissenters”. True, but nothing new there.
    ISBN 0 333 782190 9 pages 465 – 480. WSC had experience of a wide range of government posts, but was ignored on the threat from Hitler, such as the treaty breach in 1936 about the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland.
    Michael Heseltine has a track record as a businessman and entrepreneur which ought to be respected by Tory MPs.

  • Fear not they are bringing in Toby Young

    The former journalist and free school advocate Toby Young is among a group of business executives who are to help head the government’s drive to apply market forces to higher education in England, as new laws come into force that will regulate universities in the same way as water or gas utilities, according to ministers.

    Comment as they say is superfluous.

  • I’m afraid I shed few tears for Andrew Adonis – an unelected national politician of fluctuating loyalties : Labour, SDP, Liberal Democrat, ‘New’ Labour – all in fairly rapid succession.

    His activities in setting up Academies under Blair was a grievous blow which undermined democratically elected local government…….. as it seems did his rumoured successor Toby Young with his free schools

  • Correction – Young is not Adonis’s successor.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Jan '18 - 10:58am

    @Christopher Curtis : “appointments are made on the basis of blind faith and loyalty rather than competence and likely effectiveness. A sad state of affairs.”
    Doesnt the appointment of Adonis show this not to be the case ?

    @Frankie – can you explain why you think Toby Young is unsuitable ?

  • nvelope2003 2nd Jan '18 - 11:04am

    Adonis wants us to build a £60 billion railway which will almost certainly be a permanent burden on the taxpayers because the sort of fares needed to cover its costs, let alone make a profit would ensure few people used it. Much of the Today programme was devoted to a 3.4% railway fare increase despite the fact that outside the London commuter area only 2% of travel is by rail yet a 50% increase in the cost of butter was barely mentioned although I suspect a large percentage of the population use butter.
    Before building more railways we should ensure that the existing lines are fit for purpose which the users claim they are not because the public sector Network Rail cannot cope with the work. How are they going to cope with building another line ?

  • David Warren 2nd Jan '18 - 12:46pm

    Brexit or no Brexit I cannot bring myself to lament the apparent demise of two political insiders.

    Adonis was fast tracked by Blair and did very little in a failing New Labour administration.

    Heseltine a Minister in both the Thatcher and Major administrations gleefully contributed to creating an industrial wasteland in our country,

    Maybe the problem is the old boys network itself.

    No wonder the wider electorate are turned off by politics.

  • Simon,

    My personal favorite quote of his

    ‘Inclusive,’ he wrote. ‘It’s one of those ghastly, politically correct words that has survived the demise of New Labour. Schools have got to be “inclusive” these days

    ‘That means wheelchair ramps, the complete works of Alice Walker in the school library (though no Mark Twain) and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.’

    Having dyslexic children as you might guess I’m not a fan of his.

    P.S may provide further clues too my dislike of him.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Jan '18 - 4:47pm

    Davids Raw & Warren: Please do not compare Andrew Adonis to Toby Young. They are chalk and cheese. Adonis is a small-l liberal, who became part of the New Labour project, and does not seem to be a fan of Corbyn. Young is on the hard right (at odds with his late father’s leftish politics), with clearly no love for New Labour, and he encouraged right-wingers to join Labour to vote for Corbyn.

    Also, Adonis is of working-class origins and his father was a Cypriot immigrant. No “old boys network” there.

  • nvelope2003 2nd Jan ’18 – 11:04am…Adonis wants us to build a £60 billion railway…

    It seems strange to single out Adonis for criticism on his HS2 stance…

    In September 2013 LDV told us that is “HS2 is NOT Lib Dem policy!

    In 2015 Liberal Democrat General Election Campaign Spokesman Lord Scriven said, ““There’s only one party you can trust to make sure HS2 comes to our great Northern cities and that’s the Liberal Democrats.”…….. and went on to criticise Labour for wanting to cancel it..

    What is OUR current stance? Perhaps like ‘Trident’?

  • I shed no tears over the passing of Adonis. Unfortunately HS2 is a massive waste of money with little or no financial or strategic justification.

    Overall, a result in the right direction but hardly worth a mention.

  • “What bothers me is the focus on speed [of HS2]. Enabling people to get from London to Birmingham a bit quicker is probably the least convincing reason for spending the money.”

    Mark, have you not inadvertently stumbled upon the real reason for HS2?

    The HS2 proposal has nothing to do with allowing Northerner’s fast access to London. The sole purpose of HS2 [and its speed], is to alleviate the London housing problem. If the speed of the proposed HS2 can turn Coventry and Stratford upon Avon into a 45 minute run from London, then you have solved the London housing problem by making south Birmingham into a dormitory zone for London.

    It’s never, ever, about what’s good for the North. It’s always about what London wants, because as we all know, there is nothing of any worth to ‘the establishment’ beyond the great privileged walls of the M25?

  • nvelope2003 2nd Jan '18 - 8:48pm

    Mark Valladares: Network Rail practically destroyed the railway parcels and mail services because they did not fit in with their maintenace schedules although a small private firm called Intercity Freight has tried to revive the parcels business by using passenger trains.
    Are there enough ppassngers to fill all those extra trains when the present ones are not full ? And how much subsidy will be required to maintain the present route for those places not served by the new HS2 ?

  • David Warren 2nd Jan '18 - 10:07pm

    @Alex Macfie

    I didn’t compare Toby Young to anyone because I didn’t mention him.

    As for Adonis I am well aware of his background.

    His father may have been a manual worker but I don’t think he ever has been.

    He has also long been part of what I see as the old boys network, by which I mean a group of people who get high profile jobs from a ‘shortlist of one.’

    Along with the senior Tories and civil servants dealing with Brexit they are the principle reason we are in such a mess.

  • HS2 is not, and never has been about speed, it is about capacity.
    Sorry you’ve been taken in by the lies, many spread by Adonis!
    HS2 was and is a vanity project dreamed up by a Labour party wanting to be seen to be ‘modern’, hip, etc. All the justifications you may have heard about the project are simply straws, desperate politicians and their cronies (ie. those who stand to fill their pockets from the public purse) have grasped upon to justify this expensive and wasteful project. Remember the PAC have noted the justifications don’t add up and that alternative uses of the monies to stimulate the regional economics have not been given sufficient weight or investigated.

    If HS2 was really about capacity, between London/Eurpoe and the North of England and Scotland then it would have started from a very different place, not just a shuttle service between London and Birmingham with no connection with the existing rail network.

    Also if capacity on the existing London/North routes was so tight, perhaps someone can explain why in the new 2018 timetable, we are seeing a massive reduction in capacity on the London/North lines and an increase in journey times. For example where I live, currently, London is just under an hour away, the new ‘fast’ trains proposed in the timetable will take 1:15, also there will be fewer trains…
    Also remember HS2 was dreamed up before Brexit …

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Jan '18 - 11:44am

    Why are we so obsessed with individuals in charge of bodies like the NIC ? I think a small group with mutually beneficial characteristics would serve the nation better. Leaving it all to one person puts too much on their shoulders. They need a Chair, certainly but it is the team that matters not the individual. Particularly with an area like infrastructure, no one person can know it all.

  • nvelope2003 3rd Jan '18 - 11:51am

    How many people having to wait months for an operation to deal with some painful disease would prefer to get from London to Birmingham 10 minutes quicker ? That 10 minutes could be saved by reducing the number of stops anyway. The only people to benefit from the HS2 project will be the contractors, one of whom, Carillion, is being investigated by the FCA.

  • nvelope2003 3rd Jan '18 - 9:07pm

    Adonis was interviewed on C4 News by Kathy Newman who pointed out that his renationalisation of the East Coast Mainline had cost the taxpayers £1 billion. He admitted that it had cost hundreds of millions of pounds. What does that mean for the renationalisation of the whole railway system ? It seems to contradict what we have been led to believe.

  • John Marriott 4th Jan '18 - 9:20am

    “To the COUNTY’S growth plans”. Which county do you mean? Adonis did much to wreck Lincolnshire’s education, when, as a member of Blair’s Government, he backed plans that more or less destroyed comprehensive education in the Greater Lincoln area.

  • nvelope2003 5th Jan '18 - 11:08am

    Lord Adonis wants day time rail freight transferred to road haulage as he thinks it delays passenger trains because he believes he was held up by freight trains on two occasions, although actually the delay was caused by signal problems. As maintenance is normally done at night this would mean the virtual end of rail freight. Is that what people want ?
    It would be helpful if those who promote projects made an effort to understand what was involved before making statements. There was a crushing rejection of the case for renationalisation of the railways by those who know something about them in response to “research” by the Labour party which seemed to consist of a lot of platitudes but little real evidence although there was some criticism of the fare structure which could be sorted out without nationalisation.

  • Yeovil Yokel 5th Jan '18 - 11:53am

    nvelope2003 – it would be helpful if you could provide a link for your assertion about Adonis wanting to transfer daytime rail freight haulage to road. If he does believe that freight trains delay passenger services then he is mostly wrong, passenger trains are normally given signalling priority on the network.
    As for maintenance, this is a 24hr a day / 365 day a year operation, it does not ”normally” take place at night and usually involves speed restrictions not line closures and diversions, so increased nighttime freight services would no more be affected by maintenance than they are now.

  • nvelope2003 5th Jan '18 - 6:12pm

    Yeovil Yokel: I do not think much freight is carried by rail in the Yeovil area. Yes I know maintenance is carried out during the day but I was referring to the line closures that do occur at night which could make it difficult to move freight. Even Yeovil suffers line closures at night. I was at one time involved in dealing with this. There was a small item about Adonis in, I think, Railway Magazine.

  • nvelope2003 6th Jan '18 - 9:52am

    Sir Richard Branson has claimed that the Government failed to carry out a promised upgrade on the East Coast Mainline causing a £100 million loss for the Virgin franchise (BBC Radio 4 Six O’clock News on 05/01/18)

  • nvelope2003 6th Jan ’18 – 9:52am……….Sir Richard Branson has claimed that the Government failed to carry out a promised upgrade on the East Coast Mainline causing a £100 million loss for the Virgin franchise (BBC Radio 4 Six O’clock News on 05/01/18)………

    Mandy Rice-Davis comes to mind…In Virgin’s publicity blurb they boast about putting umpteen extra trains and tens of thousands of extra seats month by month on the line (e.g. 4,000 more weekday seats in May 2016)

  • nvelope2003 7th Jan '18 - 2:37pm

    Expats: I was merely reporting this news without any comment. Railways cost a great deal to operate because the public expect higher safety standards than those tolerated on our roads. If the Government tried to impose those standards on roads most drivers would have to stop driving so they do not or they would lose the next election. It is not unreasonable to expect those who use railways to pay the cost of doing so. Most of the complaints about fare increases seem to come from people who think they are entitled to subsidised travel – that is other people should pay for their travel, many of whom rarely if ever use trains. I do use them myself but not every day.

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