Ahead of the launch of Enabling Better Infrastructure, ICE and Pinsent Masons held a preview event where guests were introduced to the programme and its principles. Chris Richards, Head of Policy and Public Affairs outlines the ideas that were discussed.
The Enabling Better Infrastructure Programme outlines 12 guiding principles to support decision makers around the world in delivering infrastructure investment plans to support their ambitions around sustainable development.
In advance of the global launch in six countries, ICE previewed the programme in Hong Kong at a special event hosted by Pinsent Masons. Guests, including infrastructure sector leaders and government policy-makers received an overview of the principles. The need for strategic infrastructure planning in a Hong Kong context was also discussed by Mr SH Lam, the Permanent Secretary for Development (Works) at the Hong Kong Development Bureau.
The 12 guiding principles provide a useful framework based on best practice taken from around the world. Countries will be at different stages of development or may prioritise some principles over others. However, by focusing on improving strategic infrastructure planning and prioritisation at the front end, governments can better enable the delivery of infrastructure systems across the rest of the lifecycle as projects will be better aligned to a clear vision and strategy.
Over dinner, guests discussed three key questions –
- Which of the 12 guiding principles are the most important for effective strategic infrastructure planning and why?
- What are the key issues for Hong Kong?
- Which other countries demonstrate good practice in strategic infrastructure planning?
The need for flexibility in strategic infrastructure planning
As part of the feedback from discussions, it was clear that principles 1 (on the need for starting with strategic objectives) and 11 (the need for high-quality consultation) resonated strongly.
There was also support for a strategy to include implementation (principle 6), particularly regulatory upgrades to unlock new delivery approaches; after all a strategy is not just about creating a list of priority projects. In the context of Hong Kong, this included the need for regulatory changes to unlock modern methods of construction such as offsite construction techniques.
It was also felt that implementation was best achieved where there was a coordinating function at the heart of government. The Enabling Better Infrastructure report looked at the role of the UNOPS Capacity Assessment Tool for Infrastructure (detailed in the 12 guiding principles report), which creates capacity-building roadmaps that can unlock greater coordination.
A strategy is not a static document
Throughout the discussion, it was clear that once a strategy is created it should be kept under review. Circumstances change and new evidence can often come to light during implementation and operation, that can have an impact on future plans. Both in the UK and Australia, annual audits are conducted against the evidence base of a national strategy, to factor in what, if anything, needs to change in the strategy.
It was also recognised that a strategy should consider the need for asset management after construction. Infrastructure strategies are not just about the new, but should take a holistic approach to the wider infrastructure system. As principle 5 outlines, low or no-build solutions may come to light as the best way forward for achieving an outcome. How existing assets will be maintained, upgraded or replaced should feature in a strategy.
The missing principle – leadership
When considering which countries are already getting this right there was a general feeling that most were in the same place, however Singapore was a country raised by some as a good model to look at. This was for a variety of reasons, however the main one was its strong leadership. Whilst there was strong support for the 12 guiding principles, it was generally recognised that a precursor to all of them was effective leadership from decision makers to trigger the process. Some argued this was a missing principle as without this, nothing else gets done.
Throughout 2020, ICE will be working with partners to test these principles across different countries around the world, with the aim being to identify how the principles apply to different socio-economic jurisdictions around the world, including at different geographic levels. If you would like to partner with us, get in touch.