ICE Scotland director Hannah Smith discusses the Scottish Infrastructure Commission report on the key infrastructure priorities.
The Scottish Infrastructure Commission has published its Phase 1 report, after 12 months of consultation and engagement on the key infrastructure priorities.
As far back as 2016, ICE Scotland called for the creation of this Commission. We recognised that as we looked forward to 2050 and beyond, there was a need for a clear, independent view on a long-term infrastructure Strategy.
The Commission was formally launched in early 2019, with incoming ICE President Rachel Skinner invited to be one of the Commissioners.
Over the past year, we’ve fed-into the Commission’s work (you can see our written input here) and we are pleased to see many of ICE Scotland’s proposals featuring in the Commission’s recommendations. We set these out in some detail below.
What the Commission has produced here raises a number of questions – not least how their recommendations will be taken forward. This report is clearly the beginning of a body of work, but it is work worth doing – clearly setting us in the right direction to develop Scotland’s future infrastructure landscape.
A step-change for infrastructure
The Commission boldly sets out that infrastructure outcomes will move beyond being measured principally by GVA, but on a wider set of societal outcomes framed by two key Scottish Government policy areas: net-zero carbon emissions and inclusive economic growth. There is a call for a re-think on what infrastructure we use and how we use it. This recognises a growing appreciation across industry that infrastructure projects should do more than deliver economically. ‘Good projects’ are ones which tick multiple boxes.
Infrastructure has never existed as an end it itself but is designed to meet societal need. Successful infrastructure projects are recognised as being critical to place-making, to wellbeing, and to underpinning a net-zero economy. This emerging thinking presents a considerable change to the infrastructure outcomes we seek, how we quantify them, and to investment. The Commission notes that “the nature, purpose and focus of infrastructure investment” will fundamentally change – the types of projects brought forward in the future will look very different to what we have seen over the past 30 years.
The overarching recommendation from the Commission is that Scottish Government considers infrastructure and prioritises investment based on projects’ contributions to the delivery of an inclusive net zero carbon economy. The report sets out a series of recommendations and asks, many of which are in line with ICE asks:
- The Scottish Government already takes a relatively broad view of infrastructure – capturing social as well as economic assets. We argued this should go further, to include green infrastructure and are pleased to see the Commission support this, calling for ‘natural infrastructure’ to be considered.
- ICE Scotland set out that the Commission should include resilience as an additional strategic driver for infrastructure provision, recognising that resilient networks are critical in order to better serve and protect Scotland’s regions, cities, and communities. We therefore welcome the clear recognition in the report that resilience should be considered at the outset of infrastructure planning and design – and is therefore a driver of choices made about the way in which infrastructure networks are developed. Additionally, there is further recognition that infrastructure should be considered as a holistic system rather than a set of disparate assets.
- The Commission advises Scottish Government to take a whole-life benefits approach to infrastructure investment and be framed within a systems context; at the local, regional and national levels also noting that “the Place Principle” was launched in Scotland last year. ICE has long been a proponent of whole-life approaches and welcomes this recommendation.
- The Commission sets out that government investment should prioritise projects which deliver against an inclusive net-zero economy, drawing on our Enabling Better Infrastructure work in saying: ‘The Institution of Civil Engineers most recent publication on improving infrastructure decision-making, noted the importance of a clear framework, as well as considering affordability and undertaking ruthless prioritisation to allocate limited funds to those projects that bring the greatest development benefits over the long term.’
- A key recommendation in ICE Scotland’s State of The Nation 2018 Report on Infrastructure Investment was that government should develop a strategic focus on asset maintenance. We welcome the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland echo this in saying that existing assets should be “efficiently utilised, maintained and enhanced to net zero carbon readiness” – a recommendation in line with ICE Scotland’s proposals on asset maintenance.
- Again, in line with our thinking, accelerating heat and transport decarbonisation is put forward as a priority. Our recommendations around an alternative to fuel duty is also picked up.
- Recommendations are also put forward around appropriate regulation, digital infrastructure and public participation.
So what next?
Much of what the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland has put forward reflects our thinking at ICE on the future of infrastructure in Scotland and beyond. We have secured an important first step, in getting traction on key recommendations – and in doing so we have seen much of Scotland’s industry and civic sector align behind the aims the Commission sets out. The important thing now is that policy-makers take up these themes, setting out a long-term infrastructure strategy looking at the specific recommendations and embedding these principles into other pieces of work.
This is a big year for Scottish policy: Scottish Government is at the beginning of shaping new planning frameworks – across NPF4 and SPP; the National Transport Strategy and Strategic Transport Projects Review are due for publication this year, and we will also see policy development on Housing up to 2040.
All of these areas present a very real opportunity to lay the foundations for the infrastructure that will shape Scotland’s future.
ICE Scotland of course, will continue to be a key voice in that debate.