National Infrastructure Commission highlights congestion, capacity and carbon challenges

The recent launch of the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) vision and priorities takes us one step closer to an independent, evidenced-based and long-term assessment of UK infrastructure need.

The revamped Birmingham New Street Station. An exmaple of how existing infrastructure can be significantly improved
The revamped Birmingham New Street Station. An exmaple of how existing infrastructure can be significantly improved
  • Updated: 02 November, 2017
  • Author: Ben Goodwin, Lead Policy Manager

The NIC has outlined three broad challenges that must be tackled to ensure the UK has the high performing infrastructure networks required to drive economic growth and help improve quality of life:

  • Make better use of existing infrastructure to reduce the growing levels of congestion that we are seeing in the UK’s urban centres.
  • Identify where new infrastructure services and systems are required to deliver additional capacity.
  • Reduce CO₂ emissions in energy generation and the high levels that are produced in other core sectors like transport.

The focus on congestion, capacity and carbon fits well with ICE’s policy and knowledge delivery work. We are already looking to identify solutions and interventions in these areas.

Equally encouraging is that many of the action points that are emerging out of this work are reflected in the NIC’s own priorities for addressing the ‘three Cs’ challenge, including: developing our capabilities as a digital society; harnessing the potential of connected and autonomous vehicles, and improving our approach to the way infrastructure is financed and funded.

Regional government should answer local needs

The launch itself, which took place at Birmingham City University, had a distinct regional flavour to it and this was clearly by design. Speaking alongside the NIC’s Andrew Adonis were metro mayors Andy Burnham and Andy Street, with Sadiq Khan providing the view from London.

It was recognition that strong regional government is necessary if we are to solve challenges that are very much tied to population growth and other demographic changes in our towns and cities.

Devolving powers will enable decision-making that better takes into account local needs, while raising the likelihood that integrated approaches to infrastructure planning and delivery are taken with greater local business and community support.

But devolution must go far enough to enable the new metro mayors to put together a strategic infrastructure programme. The NIC’s final assessment should consider this carefully.

Similarly, there is an onus on central government to devolve appropriate revenue raising powers to parallel new decision-making responsibilities over infrastructure.

Next steps

The NIC’s vision and priorities paper is now out for consultation. It closes on 12 January 2018.

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