Independent advisory body would ensure strategic approach to infrastructure in Northern Ireland

An independent advisory body should be established to ensure a strategic approach to planning, delivering and financing infrastructure in Northern Ireland, says the Institution of Civil Engineers.

An infrastructure advisory body for Northern Ireland
An infrastructure advisory body for Northern Ireland

The advisory body would provide independent advice to the Northern Ireland (NI) Executive to ensure decisions can be made strategically and allow an improvement in economic competitiveness.

This recommendation forms part of a number made in a policy paper, An infrastructure advisory body for Northern Ireland.

Recommendations

  • The Executive should articulate a clear vision for NI and establish an independent infrastructure advisory body to provide advice and recommendations on how best to prioritise long-term investment in NI’s infrastructure.
  • The advice provided must be evidence based and long term in nature, recognising demographic challenges, including population projections as well as urban and rural needs, climate change, existing infrastructure asset condition and performance, cross-border collaboration, technological trends and productivity in the region. This advice should take a whole-life-benefits approach and be framed within a systems context.
  • The advisory body should report to the Executive and suitable governance arrangements should be established that allow an independent advisory body to undertake long-term holistic needs assessments, updated on a rolling five-year basis. The Executive, in response, should establish and regularly update an infrastructure strategy for NI.

As we all move into the recovery phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, infrastructure will have a key role to play; supporting the vision for our society and economy to emerge from this very difficult period.

The challenges that existed pre-pandemic will, no doubt, be impacted by the lockdown period and its aftermath and for that reason, ICE believes that the formation of an independent body for infrastructure will be even more important - when financial resources will be further stretched, we will need to unlock better value and better social and economic outcomes, and address shared global challenges in a sustainable way. It is hoped that an independent advisory body could assist the Executive as strategic decisions are made and priorities established, to improve opportunity for all of us living and working here.

What benefits will an independent infrastructure advisory body bring to Northern Ireland?

By putting in place an entity that can gather evidence, consider options and identify a clear rationale for infrastructure projects in line with Northern Ireland’s ambitions, the NI Executive will be able to obtain better value from its infrastructure investments.

Learning from others

Globally there are examples of a variety of approaches taken to evaluate and assess infrastructure need. ICE’s Enabling Better Infrastructure report revealed that independent infrastructure bodies are being increasingly prevalent globally, though they must be designed to function within the political system they operate in and have a clear mandate and remit. It is ICE’s recommendation to establishing an independent infrastructure advisory body in order for NI to achieve greater economic competitiveness, improve the wellbeing of its population and meet environmental ambitions.

Online panel

The final report, published 29 June 2020, was discussed at our live panel session with panellists Paul Sheffield (ICE President), Emer Murnaghan (ICE Vice President), John Glass (ICE NI Chair) and Ashleen Feeney (CBI NI Infrastructure Working Group Chair). The event presented recommendations set out in the report, followed by a short question and answer session.

Download the report

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