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ICE asks: what should be in the UK's second National Infrastructure Assessment?

02 August 2021

ICE has published a discussion paper and consultation which seeks views on changing demand drivers and what needs to be considered in the next NIA.

ICE asks: what should be in the UK's second National Infrastructure Assessment?
Extreme weather events are likely to become more common in the future – is our infrastructure resilient enough? Image credit: Shutterstock

With major demographic challenges on the horizon – including the growth and ageing of the population, coupled with the need to adapt to a changing climate – it is essential that we take a long-term approach to infrastructure planning.

The National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) aims to do exactly that.

Producing the NIA every five years is one of the NIC’s core responsibilities set out in its charter and its first such report, published in 2018, heavily influenced the government’s recent National Infrastructure Strategy.

What’s the plan for the next NIA?

The NIA process is a comprehensive one – work began earlier this year to create a baseline assessment of the current state of key infrastructure sectors. This will be published for consultation in the autumn, alongside the NIC’s proposals for the strategic themes and main priorities it will explore as part of the second NIA.

The final NIA will be published in 2023.

ICE’s National Needs Assessment, published in 2016, provided a blueprint for the first NIA, and we are keen to ensure our members’ views and expertise are heard in preparing for NIA2.

Changing demand drivers

The first NIA was underpinned by evidence and assumptions around future infrastructure supply and demand, including changes in the economy, population, climate and environment, and technology.

Of course, policies have changed and new challenges have arisen since the NIA was published in 2018.

Most prominently, the UK has enshrined in law a commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will require huge investment in, and changes to, our infrastructure systems.

Additionally, while many longer-term impacts remain unknown, the Covid-19 pandemic has very likely changed – or at least sped up changes to – the demand profile for infrastructure. This could result in behavioural changes that affect many core infrastructure sectors.

Extreme weather events are becoming more evident, with scientists warning last week that the UK is already undergoing disruptive climate change. This is having an impact on our infrastructure, with implications for mitigation, adaptation, resilience and reliability under these more extreme conditions.

We want to know which of the demand drivers from the first NIA still stand up to the test, and which need revising.

Net zero, levelling-up, climate resilience… what else?

We know that the next NIA will be supported by three expert advisory panels – on net zero, levelling-up and climate resilience – who will assess and challenge the NIC’s emerging thinking.

There are core considerations within these three areas, not least how we decarbonise energy, heat, transport and waste, while ensuring sustainable economic growth across all regions of the UK and for our infrastructure to be better prepared for disruptions.

Many of these aspects are linked. For example, local decision-makers will have a major role in supporting net zero. And with more spatial data available, climate-resilient infrastructure bespoke to local conditions could be more effective than a nationwide approach.

But there are questions about whether these local decision-makers have the necessary powers and funding to actually deliver these required changes.

These three areas will not be the only ones the second NIA looks at. ICE wants to hear from you what else should be explored and why.

This is your chance to have your say on what should be considered in the second NIA. Take part in ICE’s consultation – submit your views on the below questions to [email protected].

  1. Which assumptions around future demand, which sat behind the first NIA, are still valid? And which need fundamental review?
  2. Within each of the three currently identified themes for the second NIA (net zero, levelling-up, climate resilience), what should be the core considerations for infrastructure by sector and region?
  3. Are there other issues outside these three themes that should be explored in the second NIA to deliver against the NIC’s objectives?
  4. How can the second NIA move the UK closer to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals through infrastructure interventions?

Read the full discussion paper and consultation.

  • David Hawkes, head of policy at ICE