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Infrastructure blog

The growing importance for an evidence-based National Infrastructure Strategy

23 July 2019

ICE’s latest policy paper sets out its priorities for the government’s forthcoming National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS). It appeals for the government to produce an NIS that's evidenced-based, takes a holistic approach to infrastructure planning and prioritises improvements in delivery.

The growing importance for an evidence-based National Infrastructure Strategy
Image credit: Patricia van den Berg/Pixabay

Infrastructure is the heartbeat of any high-performing economy and while the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, will have much to grapple with during his first few weeks in office, it's critical that the NIS remains high on the agenda.

With its publication expected this autumn there's only a limited amount of time for ensuring that it hits the mark and provides a fully comprehensive plan for the UK’s infrastructure networks for the years to come.

What should be included in the National Infrastructure Strategy?

Considering the evidence developed by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and the range of policy work that the ICE has produced in parallel, the NIS should:

  • Adopt the recommendations put forward by the National Infrastructure Assessment in full and demonstrate in detail how each will be delivered.
  • Set out support for new approaches to funding and financing infrastructure, including:
    • a pay-as-you-go model for England’s strategic road network by 2030
    • the need for a UK financial institution to provide infrastructure finance in the event that the UK loses access to the European Investment Bank as a consequence of Brexit.
  • Mandate the development of regional infrastructure strategies across England to ensure effective integration of infrastructure planning at multiple geographic scales.
  • Set out support for the principles of Project 13 as a new model to improve the delivery of major infrastructure projects and programmes.
  • Include a robust plan for driving up the use of digital technologies and innovative approaches to infrastructure delivery, including: offsite construction, standardisation and design for manufacture and assembly.

Why is an evidenced-based National Infrastructure Strategy required?

Both the economic and societal cases for infrastructure and the need to secure long-term investment for future provision have been well voiced by the ICE, the NIC and many of the other key built environment organisations.

The public also understands the importance of infrastructure, as polls carried out by YouGov on behalf of the ICE demonstrate. Indeed, 75% of GB adults believe that more money should be spent on improving the UK’s core infrastructure networks, while the same proportion recognises the need for a new national strategy for infrastructure.

The case for good infrastructure has been well voiced and, in many respects, well accepted.

The bit that’s missing is actually improving the way in which infrastructure is ‘done’, so as to ensure that it delivers the very best outcomes for the economy and society more widely.

The UK needs an NIS that's focused on joined-up thinking between infrastructure sectors, as opposed to a list of disconnected projects. It must be based on the best available evidence – including ICE’s National Needs Assessment and the NIC’s National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) - that spells out clearly what infrastructure networks the UK requires.

Finally, the NIS should set out a credible pathway for improving the delivery and operation of infrastructure networks.

Why is there such a big opportunity now?

For infrastructure to deliver the very best outcomes it's necessary that the drivers of demand – demographic, environmental, technological – are properly taken into consideration by policymakers responsible for identifying and delivering infrastructure projects.

At present, this isn't happening on a consistent basis and as a result national infrastructure planning isn't being conducted in a strategic way.

The NIA and key ICE policy reports provide the government, and opposition parties, with the impartial and expert evidence base that can help to put this right. The NIS is a unique opportunity for the government to harness this work and help deliver long-term benefits for businesses, the environment and British society more widely.

In this current period of political instability, which is being driven by Brexit and an associated lack of parliamentary consensus, government officials and politicians are increasingly time-poor.

An expert evidence base can provide a coherent and rapid point of reference; cutting through the current public policy impasse and keeping infrastructure high on the agenda.

Support ICE’s recommendations for the National Infrastructure Strategy

ICE will be making the case for our NIS recommendations all the way through to its publication. If you'd like to offer your support in helping us do this, please contact us.

  • Ben Goodwin, lead policy manager at ICE