Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced a new Acceleration Unit designed to speed up road improvement schemes. The new “team of specialists” will be tasked with helping the Department for Transport (DfT) tackle delays to infrastructure projects, including road building and rail network improvements.

According to the DfT, the unit is due to swing into action in September, answering directly to the Transport Secretary. The unit itself will be headed up by Darren Shirley, who is currently chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport and previously worked for Which? Magazine.

Alongside Shirley, the Acceleration Unit will enlist the help of numerous experts, including Highways England’s director of complex infrastructure projects, Chris Taylor, and Mace chief executive Mark Reynolds. The DfT says the duo are uniquely qualified, having overseen the construction of the £1.5 billion A14 improvements and the construction of the Nightingale hospital in East London respectively.

The arrival of the new unit follows the establishment of a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council, which is supposed to make sure northern infrastructure projects are completed “swiftly”. Speaking as he unveiled the new plans, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he wanted to ensure the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was “better, greener and faster”.

“As Britain begins to get moving once again after four months of lockdown, no-one should underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead,” he said. “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.”

Ramp Ahead roadworks sign on UK motorway

Meanwhile Darren Shirley, head of the Acceleration Unit, said the organisation would help deliver schemes that would help the UK rebuild after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“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,” he said. “The breadth and depth of expertise in my new team will stand us in 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.”

Works Exit roadworks sign on UK motorway