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The Northern Ireland Executive commits to establishing an infrastructure commission

05 August 2021

Jenny Green, ICE Director for Northern Ireland, discusses infrastructure’s role in the new Consolidated Covid-19 Recovery Plan.

The Northern Ireland Executive commits to establishing an infrastructure commission
The UN's latest report warns more extreme events are to come unless governments take action.

This week, the Northern Ireland Executive published Building Forward: Consolidated Covid-19 Recovery Plan.

ICE NI has engaged with a significant number of consultations in recent months, including the invitation to submit our views as the Covid-19 Recovery Plan was being developed.

I was invited to join the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Infrastructure by the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon MLA, in 2020. The panel’s report confirmed the views of a June 2020 ICE policy paper that an independent infrastructure advisory body should be established for Northern Ireland. We therefore warmly welcome the Executive’s commitment to the establishment of an infrastructure commission as part of the recovery plan.

Independent expertise

In line with international best practice, ICE considers that an independent infrastructure commission is the best way of facilitating a longer-term infrastructure strategy and investment plan.

Many of us understand that infrastructure has a key role to play in our recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, and we must ensure our networks are reliable and resilient to meet current and future needs. It's heartening to observe that political leaders here see the same need for quality infrastructure, and that it supports a number of the actions laid out in the recovery plan.

ICE believes that the infrastructure commission should be led by independent experts, drawing on global and local experience, to inform key decisions as a strategic infrastructure vision is established.

Recovery plan

The Consolidated Covid-19 Recovery Plan outlines four recovery accelerators: sustainable economic development; green growth & sustainability; tackling inequalities, and health of the population.

I am pleased to note the holistic interventions approach set out, and that the 24-month lifespan of this will lay down important pathways for the overall programme for government.

Good infrastructure underpins society and supports our mutual ambitions best when it functions effectively as a series of interlinked systems. Viewing infrastructure as part of the holistic approach to recovery and wider improvements to quality of life is vital. It's encouraging to see the acknowledgement that cross-departmental collaboration and multi-year funding and resourcing will be needed to move to implementation; this is also essential to allow for the longer-term vision and strategy we need here.

Northern Ireland is no different to many other jurisdictions, in that we are moving at pace towards fundamental behavioural changes driven by the need to tackle the climate emergency.

Economic stimulation will be supported by green growth and a climate action plan. Green infrastructure is embedded in the action plan, and we welcome the acknowledgement that this will support sustainable growth and will support the transition to a low carbon future. It's also encouraging that the importance of infrastructure in supporting a healthy population is acknowledged, including via contribution to net-zero efforts, quality wastewater infrastructure, inclusive sustainable transport and active travel, and improved connectivity.

The importance of skills

Construction industry skills, including the role of apprenticeships, are highlighted as a key part of the sustainable economic development recovery accelerator. ICE has long been aware of the need to ensure a skilled and well-supported infrastructure workforce and, with the continued focus on green grown and sustainable infrastructure, the need for fresh thinking and skills will only increase.

I have personally witnessed the mutual benefits of civil engineering apprenticeships, both for employees and their wider staff cohorts. Apprentices flourish with the right mentoring and can provide new perspectives and up-to-date knowledge for their colleagues to share. This route into the profession, combined with full and part-time further and higher education pathways and professional qualifications, can help ensure a healthy pipeline for our modern workforce, as we meet the varied challenges to come.

Supporting the future

There is huge opportunity for civil engineers and other infrastructure professionals to drive forward our ambitions to achieve net zero, improve our connectivity and recover from the wider impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, even as we continue to live with it.

Establishing an infrastructure commission will be an important step forward, as part of the Executive’s overall recovery plan.

ICE hopes that the commission can be established quickly to begin its important work in the near future, using an evidence-based approach to help unlock better social, economic and environmental outcomes and address shared global challenges.

Download the NI Executive's Building Forward: Consolidated Covid-19 Recovery Plan.

  • Jenny Green, regional director Northern Ireland at Institution of Civil Engineers