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Infrastructure blog

What a UK national infrastructure strategy means for the public

06 March 2020

With another possible delay to publication of the Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, we offer a reminder of the need for a holistic, long-term approach to infrastructure.

What a UK national infrastructure strategy means for the public
he National Infrastructure Strategy faces a possible delay. Image credit: Shutterstock

Rumours are circulating that the National Infrastructure Strategy will, yet again, be delayed. It was due to be published alongside the Budget next week.

Read our statement on the potential delay on the media centre.

As we await official confirmation, we look at what a strategy means for the public, and why a lag further deprives them of getting the infrastructure they need.

ICE has long championed the National Infrastructure Assessment and has outlined what the National Infrastructure Strategy should contain. Our Enabling Better Infrastructure programme highlights the goals that can be achieved through better strategic infrastructure planning at the national level:

  • Maximising the infrastructure system’s contributions to meeting national objectives via a package of investments and other measures that are greater than the sum of their parts;
  • Improving public confidence in the process via transparent and inclusive decision-making;
  • Growing investor and supply-chain confidence unlocking private finance options and supply chain investment in delivery capability;
  • Improving project delivery and benefits realisation via better coordination of the national strategy with any sectoral or regional plans;
  • Improving the affordability of future investments via supporting sustainable economic growth.

These are all areas the UK should be seeking to improve, and a Strategy will help.

The end-user

But away from those headline goals, what does this all mean for the public? The National Infrastructure Strategy, a formal response to the National Infrastructure Assessment, is now delayed by 19 months, a point reinforced at an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Infrastructure event last month.

This means 19 months without progress on “delivering the people’s priorities” - to borrow a phrase. In August last year, we asked the public what they made of all this. 72% agreed that the Government isn’t planning for future infrastructure needs and 73% of respondents felt that politicians aren’t focusing enough on big domestic issues, such as future infrastructure requirements and housing.

In July, we highlighted the risk that the National Infrastructure Assessment, a thorough and comprehensive piece of work, would be wasted. Reminding decision-makers that societal challenges don’t go away if you ignore them, they only get more costly.

As we’ve outlined in our Budget submission, the Assessment offers a ready-made Strategy. Delay means the public is missing out on the following transformative programmes:

  • On decarbonising – the UK would already be on the path to net-zero through clarity on how to switch to low-carbon and renewable sources in a low-cost way using energy markets. The Commission also made firm recommendations on how to drive the uptake in electric vehicles including in remote and rural areas to achieve the benefits of cleaner air.
  • On full-fibre digital infrastructure – rather than doing a high-level hokey-cokey on target dates, we could already be implementing a National Broadband Plan on the ground to deliver full-fibre to all homes and businesses by 2033. Recommendations in this space included clear measures on what regulatory changes were needed to make full-fibre a reality.
  • On investment across cities – we could be having Mayoral elections this year focused on how to spend £43 billion over five years on infrastructure and housing and be well on our way to progressing Northern Powerhouse Rail and Crossrail 2. With the Commission’s recommendations targeted at reducing congestion on intra-city transport networks.
  • On a strategic approach to floods, an issue with significant consequences as the past few months have shown – we could already have clarity on what standard of flood resilience we need along with a long-term funding package to improve flood risk management, including a multi-annual funding programme and standards for new property developments.

Improving delivery matters

But as our Enabling Better Infrastructure work set out in December, a strategy isn’t just about what will be delivered but also how.

Our paper looking at what should be in the National Infrastructure Strategy set out the key areas where delivery of infrastructure could be improved. This includes the need for a robust plan to drive up the use of digital technologies and innovative approaches to infrastructure delivery such as offsite construction, standardisation and design for manufacture and assembly. Along with setting out support for new approaches to delivery, such as Project 13, to improve procurement and deliver higher value to the end-user.

The delay in a National Infrastructure Strategy also delays these opportunities to improve delivery, during a period where uncertainty over significant projects such as HS2 would have been weighing on the minds of the infrastructure sector.

After 19 months, there can be no further excuse for delay.

  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers