Devolution and development

Adrian Coy sets out the need for English devolution deals to prioritise infrastructure development and provision of skills to realise their opportunities.

New Street station, Birmingham. The Midlands Connect partnership will publish a transport strategy for the region in March 2017. Image: Bs0u10e01 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
New Street station, Birmingham. The Midlands Connect partnership will publish a transport strategy for the region in March 2017. Image: Bs0u10e01 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Updated: 14 October, 2016
  • Author: Adrian Coy, ICE Vice President

As the English mayoral elections in May 2017 and further rounds of regional devolution deals are announced, it is worthwhile considering the importance of developing regional strategies to ensure infrastructure remains at the heart of the emerging new political landscapes.

Devolution presents development opportunities at different levels to benefit the wider community. However, understanding where ultimate decision-making over the implementation and delivery of infrastructure policy should be located is imperative. It is as important as establishing a system of identifying infrastructure need at appropriate political and economic levels.

Local and regional

At a local level, development opportunities should be planned as they are currently by local authorities and the new combined authorities, with the business input of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs). Here, decision making should be around what directly affects the local communities such bodies represent.

At a regional level, the emerging concepts such as the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine have the potential to develop a regional industry strategy that links local development opportunities into a more cohesive sub-national plan.

For example, the new Midlands Connect partnership should be given the opportunity to not only develop a strategy for transport infrastructure that connects cities and hubs, but recognises the interconnectivity of all forms of infrastructure. New housing and industry requires energy, water, waste management and digital infrastructure as well as transport, all of which must be protected from flood risk.

We should learn from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where holistic and long-term infrastructure plans are more advanced than anything we have in English regions.

Strategies and pipelines

As set out in ICE’s State of the Nation: Devolution report, developing long-term regional infrastructure strategies should bring together the infrastructure developers and providers to meet the growth needs of industry, developers and local communities; and should address resilience by encouraging collaboration. However, realising growth through the infrastructure agenda of devolution will require improved skills provision: there is little point in planning new railways or power stations if there is not a trained workforce to build them.

Regional infrastructure pipelines identifying specific upcoming projects and providing foresight on skills and education requirements should be put in place alongside the regional infrastructure strategies. Long term pipelines would provide regional contractors and their supply chain with increased certainty of workload so they can plan for growth and recruit and train the workforce of tomorrow. The pipelines would equally provide training providers with confidence to develop courses and resources. These could be similar to the regularly updated National Infrastructure Pipeline, and combined authority level reports such as the Greater Manchester Construction Sector Pipeline Analysis for the north-west.

Decisions must be based on an understanding of local needs. Integration of services is easier to deliver on a local scale and securing vital public support for projects is more achievable when it is the same community that benefits. Devolution of infrastructure can therefore help not just the economy’s recovery but also improve quality of life and the environment.

Adrian Coy will be speaking at the Transport-Led Development in the Midlands 2016 conference on 19 October in Birmingham.