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Infrastructure blog

5 lessons for strategically planning infrastructure

01 March 2024

A recent Enabling Better Infrastructure Live session focused on how to set up investable project pipelines that meet people’s needs.

5 lessons for strategically planning infrastructure
The government needed to work across jurisdictions in Peru to deliver the metro system. Image credit: Shutterstock

All countries have a unique context for their infrastructure needs, depending on their geography, economy and governance.

That means that their strategic planning approach must be fit for purpose for their particular context.

That said, dialogue among policymakers has shown the value of insight sharing to help overcome a range common challenges and solutions.

Enabling Better Infrastructure Live

This was evident at the virtual Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) Live session held last week, which brought together two experts in strategic infrastructure planning:

  • James Heath, CEO of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC); and
  • Bernardo Guillamon, former special advisor of the Inter-American Development Bank.

The EBI Live events create a supportive, confidential space for policymakers to share insight and practical experience.

Drawing on the ICE-led EBI principles – summarised in recently updated guidance – discussions centred around developing stable, sustainable and investable project pipelines that meet people’s current and future needs.

In this latest session, Heath and Guillamon shared successes and lessons learned from their experience working in the UK government and the private sector across Latin America and the Caribbean.

The session offered five key learnings for a successful, strategic infrastructure planning approach.

1. Use policy to set up long-term investment

Heath grounded his reflections on his experience delivering the UK’s second National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA2), launched in October 2023.

Outlining the scope of NIA2 within the NIC’s remit, James Health explained two ‘levers’ the UK uses to address long-term infrastructure needs that underpin NIA2’s recommendations.

These include improving public policy development and securing stable, long-term investment from the public and private sectors.

Heath also explained that stability helps secure investment, citing the ‘Contracts for Difference’ scheme as a good example of how a stable revenue picture has driven sustainable energy investment in the UK.

2. Understand public affordability

Policy ambition must match the scale of investment needed as well as what the public sector can afford.

As an example, Heath referenced the positive impact of the NIC’s fiscal remit, which is the budgetary and economic envelope that sets the scope for the commission’s recommendations.

It prompts the commission to specify the amount of public versus private investment needed.

This ensures the UK can deliver on its strategic infrastructure needs.

If spent well, the use of a remit can support an increase in historic public funding levels while attracting more private finance.

A benefit is that the remit helps ensure prioritisation and focus in strategic infrastructure planning while preventing a ‘wish-list’ mentality.

3. Commitment is needed for successful public-private partnerships

Turning to experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean, Guillamon shared James Heath’s view that stable policy could catalyse private infrastructure investment.

Successes in Brazil, Chile, and Peru, among others, proved useful for other countries, where lessons could be shared around renewables, boosting transport connectivity and strengthening urban planning.

In many cases, public funding constraints across the region had often been a limiting factor in driving beneficial reforms in planning and investment.

Opportunities afforded by public-private partnerships need a firm commitment from all parties.

Governments must also focus on increasing planning capacity and the amount of project owners. This would enable countries to prepare more quality, bankable initiatives to attract the funding needed.

4. Governments need to work across jurisdictions to deliver transformative infrastructure

Interaction between government policy and budget ownership was also a topic of discussion.

Supporting holistic placemaking across jurisdictions – national, regional, and local - and providing equal consideration to infrastructure and housing needs proved a key concern.

Guillamon identified the need to balance these factors in the Hudson Tunnel project, delivery of the metro systems in Lima, Quito, and Bogotá, and City Deals as used in the UK and New Zealand.

In the UK, Heath highlighted that loosening the relatively centralised model of policy governance and budget responsibility could help deliver on local needs.

This was a challenge identified in other Western democracies.

5. Reliable data is critical for strengthening strategic infrastructure planning

Access to robust data is essential for ensuring policymakers, regulators, and network owners can make effective decisions on infrastructure.

Both speakers outlined its importance not only for planning new infrastructure but also for better understanding the existing stock for maintenance and pricing reviews.

It was identified that internationally comparable data is critical to benchmark and identify patterns, for example, common cost drivers in infrastructure.

Access to data on urban density, transport needs, and land prices between countries can help strengthen approaches to planning and delivering infrastructure.

Find out more about the EBI programme and its support to governments worldwide.

  • Dr Kerry Bobbins, head of Enabling Better Infrastructure programme at ICE