The new Chancellor, Sajid Javid, announced on Friday that the long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) will go ahead this autumn. This is welcome news and ICE looks forward to working with Government.
The NIS will be the Government response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) published last year. This document sets out long-term plans to meet the nation’s growing infrastructure needs over a 30-year horizon.
What should the NIS do?
ICE published its ‘What Should be in the National Infrastructure Strategy’ paper in July setting out what we believe the NIS needs to do to be effective.
Thinking long term is critical to the success of the NIS. The Chancellor should look to adopt the recommendations of the NIA in full, demonstrating in detail how each recommendation will be delivered.
Mr Javid should then set out support for new approaches to funding and financing. This should include a full review of a pay as you go model for England’s strategic road network and the creation of a UK financial institution to provide funds should the UK lose access to the European Investment Bank.
We need regional infrastructure strategies across England to ensure effective integration of infrastructure planning. Decisions should also be made at a local level, allowing local and devolved stakeholders to take responsibility for integrated approaches in their own areas.
To maximise value for investment, the built environment sector also needs to improve, with government support. Setting out the principles of Project 13 – moving the built environment sector from a transactional to an enterprise model – is key to improving delivery of projects and programmes.
Finally, innovation and technology need to be fully harnessed. Driving up the use of digital technology and new approaches, such as offsite construction and standardisation of design for manufacture and assembly, could speed up construction, spread jobs around the country and reduce overall costs.
The public good
A recent YouGov survey conducted on behalf of ICE demonstrated that the need for a new strategy is not lost on the public. 72% agreed that the Government isn’t planning for future infrastructure needs. The same poll found that 73% of respondents feel that politicians aren’t focusing enough on big domestic issues, such as future infrastructure requirements and housing.
Infrastructure investment is never a case of ‘job done’ a growing population needs infrastructure to enable new housing, new digital communications and travel links.
The effects of climate change on our environment are already demonstrating the need for more resilient water supplies and cleaner ways of generating energy, whilst the recent damage to the Toddbrook reservoir in Whaley Bridge serves as a reminder of the constant need to maintain, upgrade and replace ageing infrastructure.
A joined-up plan
Above all, the NIS needs to avoid being simply a list of projects and priorities but must be a co-ordinated plan of action; our core economic infrastructure sectors are interdependent.
If the Chancellor’s NIS is to be a success it must think laterally as well as literally. A project in isolation will lose some of its benefits if it does not link up with the rest of our infrastructure network. For example, the next high-speed rail project should enable further development to unlock regional growth and new renewable energy developments must be linked to robust storage.
Importantly, as ICE’s forthcoming State of the Nation report on housing will explore, infrastructure must enable other sectors, including housing - one of this generation’s biggest concerns, to be developed in a co-ordinated way.
Politicians – from all parties – should now come together and ensure delivery of a robust National Infrastructure Strategy.