Andrew Jones MP, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure chair, reflects on the launch of the second National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA2).
Our latest APPGI meeting saw the NIC join us for what was, in effect, the parliamentary launch of their report.
We could not be more topical, and colleague presence and interest reflected that.
Inspiring lively debate
Meeting in the House of Lords, we heard a summary of the assessment presented by the NIC’s chair, Sir John Armitt.
We were also joined by other commissioners, including some who had been at the report’s northern launch event in Leeds earlier in the day. That was a big effort and much appreciated.
As Sir John outlined the report, I could see that colleagues were keen to attract my attention to be called to ask a question.
We had a lively debate and Sir John called in other commissioners to provide the fullest possible answers.
What struck me was the depth of practical thinking from the commission, something I think has been a hallmark since its creation.
It is one of the reasons why they are such an authoritative body.
Everyone in the room believed that infrastructure investment is an important part of meeting critical government objectives.
And there are no differences on this between political parties, though there is difference on some of the projects or their timescales.
Systemic change is needed
So the practical implementation of policy was an area we quickly gravitated towards.
In this area the NIC had really interesting things to say.
Sir John was clear that the UK must consider system changes to the way we deliver infrastructure to ensure speedier delivery and management of costs.
This meant more devolved work to our regional mayors and city leaders and more emphasis on making sure local people benefitted more from schemes.
The argument was that they suffer disruption during construction but would be more willing to accept it if there were benefits for their community.
I know this is a system which operates in some parts of the world. There was general approval to take this idea forward.
How can planning improve?
Better implementation of policy also meant reform of our planning process.
Too slow, too difficult and a process that was not achieving its objective.
Sir John highlighted the number of applications that went to judicial review.
Highlighted for specific action and reform was the grid – transmission and distribution – and how critical reform is if we are to deliver the increasingly important energy resilience.
Connecting renewable schemes to our grid more quickly and with less bureaucracy would drive investment activity.
I agreed with that one.
I suppose it was a bit inevitable that discussions on process among parliamentarians would lead to processes in Westminster.
There was a suggestion that if the hybrid bill process was reformed then several benefits would flow.
I am not so sure.
Democratic oversight is always important, and for me the link between the parliamentary approval process and project delivery oversight was not made.
Reflections on the HS2 cancellation
Since we last met there had been a major government announcement on infrastructure – the cancellation of the remaining stages of HS2.
There were expressions of disappointment in the room. I led that one, because I raised it and said as much.
As a former transport minister, I know putting capacity into our networks is necessary.
Equally, as a former treasury minister, I know when projects go vastly over their budget there are consequences.
Some in the room were pleased HS2 had been cancelled, but there were general concerns about what this scheme said about UK capability on budget management and oversight.
Big fails on both was the majority view.
It is a while since we had met in the Lords, but it worked well. This was a very good meeting.
Thanks to the ICE team for their superb secretarial support and to Sir John, his fellow commissioners and the NIC team for joining us.
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