Parliament should make greater use of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), as a provider of advice on infrastructure system development.
That’s one recommendation in a new paper, published by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).
Three years on from the publication of the first National Infrastructure Assessment, and as the NIC gears up to deliver it’s second, the institution has explored the impact of the new strategic infrastructure planning and prioritisation approach.
As an advisor not just to government, but to the entire infrastructure system, the NIC has the ability to infuse its expert insight in all political debates on strategic infrastructure planning, the report says. Such insight could be better used by Parliament, through select committee inquiries where the NIC can offer views on the conclusions of government-commissioned reports on infrastructure or where government can be made to respond to the Commission's Annual Monitoring Report.
Paul Sheffield, ICE Policy Fellow, said:
“The coming decade is our time to act – strategic infrastructure planning isn’t a fixed process and needs to evolve constantly. We need time to implement the complex changes required to meet population growth, demographic shifts, imbalances in economic prosperity across the nation and, of course, removing carbon from the economy.
“The benefits bought about by the creation of the NIC, and it’s subsequent National Infrastructure Assessment, cannot be denied and the lessons we’ve learn in the past three years since publication will ensure we can achieve what’s needed in a strategic and effective way.”
The NIC’s approach has been of benefit and should remain in place, the report outlines. The most tangible benefit being the provision of a clear, well-evidenced plan of action for policy and decision-makers to use during a period of unprecedented political and socio-economic uncertainty borne out of the UK’s exit from the European Union and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The recommendations focus on practical changes to realign the approach to national infrastructure planning and ensure future development of the UK’s infrastructure system delivers on ‘levelling-up’, infrastructure decarbonisation and adapting to new models of behaviour post-pandemic.
These include: a recommendation that publication of a National Infrastructure Strategy, at least once every five years, be enshrined in legislation; a call for Government to update the NIC’s objectives to include net-zero and the Sustainable Development Goals; and calls for an evolution of how National Policy Statements are crafted and updated.