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Contractors urge ministers to back infrastructure plans with cash

ENGINEERS THIS week criticised the government's planning reform proposals for failing to underpin national infrastructure plans with hard financial commitment.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly unveiled the proposals in her Planning White Paper on Monday.

It suggests that all nationally signifi cant projects will in future be reviewed and approved by a new Independent Planning Commission.

Decisions on whether or not to grant approval will be based on how closely schemes match a new set of National Policy Statements.

These will be produced by government departments to set out infrastructure needs over a 10 to 25 year period.

But (CECA) feared the lack of financial commitment to delivering infrastructure policy statements could undermine the plans although it welcomed their introduction in principle.

'Any national policy framework to underpin planning that sets out the UK's key infrastructure needs for the next 10 to 25 years must be backed up by a long-term, detailed programme for investment in transport infrastructure and other key areas such as energy, ' said CECA director Rosemary Beales.

She added that the market certainty this would bring would give contractors the ability invest long-term in technology, skills and resources to deliver key infrastructure.

The current planning system requires major infrastructure promoters to seek approval from local authorities or the relevant secretaries of states under instruments such as the Transport & Works Act.

This is widely accepted to be cumbersome and open to objection at every step of the way.

ICE expert panel on planning member Alan Wenban-Smith said that if the government was serious about reducing the leadin time for projects it had to realise that financial certainty was just as important as cutting red tape.

He cited Crossrail as a perfect example of a project where a lack of clarity on funding sources has hampered progress.

'One of the most worrying things about the White Paper is that there is no link between authorisation of projects and funding, ' he added.

Wenban-Smith said that unless a department like the Treasury oversees policy statements to ensure they are all financially viable to deliver together, the government ran the risk of perpetuating a wishlist culture.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities & Local Government said departments leading the production of policy statements would work closely with other government departments and consult widely to ensure policy is joined up.

'Where the infrastructure requires public funding, we would expect the government to align its priorities for nationally significant infrastructure with its priorities for public expenditure - in broad terms - as part of that cross-Whitehall process, ' she added.

Earlier this month, the ICE urged Prime Ministerelect Gordon Brown to create a National Infrastructure Investment Framework which would 'indicate where and over what period of time government expects to see major infrastructure' (NCE 3 May).

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