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Jenny Green, ICE Director for Northern Ireland, discusses a new report by the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Infrastructure.
As we try to move into the recovery phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, infrastructure will have a key role to play; supporting the vision for our society and economy to emerge from this very difficult period.
The challenges that existed in Northern Ireland pre-pandemic will, no doubt, be impacted by the lockdown period and ongoing restrictions. That’s why the formation of an independent body for infrastructure, such as an Infrastructure Commission, will be even more important. We outlined the benefit of such a body in a recent paper, and so it is encouraging to see the idea being taken seriously and further investigated by the recently formed Ministerial Advisory Panel on Infrastructure.
When financial resources will be further stretched, we will need to unlock better value and better social and economic outcomes, and address shared global challenges in a sustainable way.
As a panel, we were able to benefit from the international uptake in online meetings and speak with a number of global infrastructure authorities and experts, including the OECD, the Global Infrastructure Hub and the World Economic Forum. The aim of this engagement was to consider where current long-term NI infrastructure planning and delivery could be improved, and to learn from global best practice.
I was particularly pleased to see the willingness of all those parties to engage, share their experiences and offer further support as things progress for NI. It has reinforced my own belief that the global infrastructure community really does want to make things better across the world.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our evidence gathering led to the identification of a number of issues in both planning and delivery. Some of these are particular to NI and others are common across many nations as we face existing and future challenges.
These include population growth and a demographic shift to those aged 65+ increasing to 25% of the NI population by 2041, an urgent need to address climate change and meet 2050 net-zero targets, regional imbalances, and an urban-rural infrastructure divide. These factors, combined with the impact of external factors like Covid-19 and Brexit, are dramatically impacting the economic landscape.
The panel submitted a report in early October entitled: Turbo-charging Infrastructure to deliver cleaner, greener, sustainable and inclusive growth for all, which has now been published by the Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon MLA.
We made the unequivocal recommendation that an Infrastructure Commission, with a clear remit and the support of the entire Northern Ireland Executive, should be established as soon as practical to help inform decision-making in light of these challenges.
In line with ICE’s previous conclusions, the Panel recommended that, given the cross-cutting nature of infrastructure over many departments, an Infrastructure Commission should report to the entire NI Executive rather than through a single department. It is also recommended that the Commission should set a longer-term vision for 30+ years, with the aim of improving societal wellbeing, environmental performance, and economic growth. This should be a key driver in building a better future for everyone in NI.
The Panel also recommended that the Commission should be established as a permanent and fully funded body, with the remit to ‘self task’ and recommend infrastructure investment on the basis of its forecast impact on sustainable and inclusive economic growth. It should also advise government on all aspects of NI’s economic infrastructure, incorporating energy, roads, rail and bus, water and wastewater, waste, flood risk management and digital communications. The Commission should also consider the interface opportunities with the wider infrastructure landscape, such as that supporting healthcare, housing and education.
Download the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Infrastructure report and find out more about ICE’s Enabling Better Infrastructure programme which sets out a number of principles for effective infrastructure planning.
You can also read our recently published paper, An advisory body for Northern Ireland, in which we outline the benefits such a body could have.
*ICE welcomes guests to share their views about infrastructure policy issues on the Infrastructure blog. These views are the views of the individual. If you are interested in writing for the Infrastructure blog, please email: [email protected]. ICE reserves the right not to publish articles that have been submitted.