At a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI), parliamentarians and industry leaders set out wide-ranging views on what should be included in the government’s forthcoming National Infrastructure Strategy.
In view of the political paralysis that Brexit continues to inflict on the UK’s policymaking environment, there was a consensus that now more than ever is the right time for cross-party differences to be put to one side. Instead, a commitment to long-term decision-making that drives inclusive economic growth and supports thriving communities should prevail.
Given that infrastructure is the key enabler for the realisation of these outcomes there's no better place to start than with politicians from all sides supporting the development of impartial and evidenced-based policymaking for the sector.
Of course, this was the very reason why the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was appointed in the first place. Having now published its first National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) there can be no excuse from this government or the next that there's not enough quality work to draw on to enable an effective approach to infrastructure policymaking to be taken.
Likewise, the ICE’s own National Needs Assessment (a pre-cursor to the NIC’s work) also provides expert insight into what the UK needs from its infrastructure out to 2050.
So, what should be in the National Infrastructure Strategy?
There are a range of things that ICE would like to see in the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) when it's published in the autumn alongside the outcomes of the government’s spending review.
Promisingly, a number of these were reflected in the APPGI discussion, including:
- A new approach to funding and financing infrastructure where there's a growing and urgent need. The future of roads funding in England is increasingly uncertain with revenues from the traditional suite of taxes (vehicle excise and fuel duty) forecast to diminish. A credible and fair model for moving towards pay as you go on the Strategic Road Network is required.
- An outcomes-focused plan for transforming the way in which infrastructure projects and programmes are currently delivered, prioritising efficiency and whole-life benefits for infrastructure users and wider society. Specifically, the NIS should set out its support for the Infrastructure Client Groups’ Project 13.
- A way forward on the devolution of infrastructure policy and the associated funding, that truly enables England’s city-regions to better deliver and co-ordinate services for local communities. Coupled with this should be an emphasis on better aligning the delivery of nationally significant infrastructure projects with regional needs.
Overall, the NIS should take a cross-sectoral approach and one that's outcomes driven, rather than one that's overly focused on projects. Inclusive economic growth, environmental goals and quality of life are all integral in this respect.
Ensuring that the strategy is robust
There were also calls for the government’s strategy to address the recommendations set out by the NIA head-on, outlining clearly how each one has been adopted. In instances where alternative approaches are taken, there should be impartial research provided to support them.
The NIC has pledged to develop metrics to test the robustness of the NIS, in order to ensure its fitness for purpose. This a welcome move that the infrastructure sector should support to ensure that NIS doesn’t end up as a long list of government-pledged projects.
It's critical that all those with a stake in the built environment continue to make the case for the NIS to be a coherent and practical strategy that puts infrastructure policy on a long-term footing.
In this vein, ICE will be publishing its detailed views on what should be included in the final NIS during the course of the summer. We welcome your input and if you'd like to get in touch, please contact us.
The meeting hosted at ICE was attended by a senior audience, including: the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure Vicky Ford MP; Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt; Metro Mayor for Greater Manchester Andy Burnham; Policy Director at Green Alliance Dustin Benton; CEO of Mace Mark Reynolds; and Lucy Howard, Director at Turner and Townsend.