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I'll save you billions of pounds Darling, says Orr

ICE president David Orr this week urged chancellor Alistair Darling to set up a body capable of working across government departments to help strategically plan the UK's infrastructure.

In the ICE's budget submission sent to Darling this week, Orr said that a Strategic Infrastructure Planning Body (SIPB) was
needed to ensure a more joined up approach to "managing, developing and financing the nation's infrastructure".

Government proposals to publish National Policy Statements on infrastructure requirements would not generate the joined-up thinking required, claimed Orr. The proposals are contained in the Planning Bill, now working its way through Parliament.

"We would urge you as Chancellor to set up a review aimed at creating a Strategic Infrastructure Planning Body (SIPB), headed by a Chief Infrastructure Advisor," says Orr in a letter to Darling.

"The ICE stands ready to assist government in setting up and implementing this review."

A body that would work across government departments to develop an overall infrastructure strategy could save the government billions of pounds, he claimed. This is because there would be a "higher degree of visibility and certainty on its own investment plans for the UK's infrastructure".

The SIPB would "coordinate spending programmes across government and bring an end to unpredictable, stop start procurement" and provide "transparent forward planning that will provide a much needed, clearer picture of demand across the nation's infrastructure".

Orr's call was backed by other groups this week including the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA), the Construction Products Association (CPA) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

TCPA vice chairman Peter Hetherington told NCE that such a body was needed to create a "National Planning Framework".

"Government departments are working at cross purposes when it comes to infrastructure and England isn't working to its full potential as a result," he said.

"For example, we need to examine whether certain rail schemes could have an impact on the need to build a third runway at
Heathrow. The Infrastructure Planning Committee in the proposed Planning Bill is only half a step in the right direction.

"Most other European countries have a spatial plan that provides an overall view on infrastructure needs."CPA external affairs director Simon Storer also backed Orr's call for the SIBP, but he warned that it must avoid creating another layer of bureaucracy that could slow things down.

"Government departments don't talk to each other at the moment so we do need to encourage more cross departmental communication," he said.

"An infrastructure proposal can get lost in one department and stay there for months. We need to make sure that creating
another group will really help and will not be another means by which the government can prevaricate further."

Meanwhile the Royal Institution of Charted Surveyors (RICS) said that the Planning Bill should be amended to include a body that could draw up a "National Infrastructure Framework".

The role could be carried out by the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), being established by the Planning Bill to consider and fast track major infrastructure schemes of national importance.

"The IPC could be responsible for holding up the National Infrastructure Framework thereby allowing top down and bottom up views on infrastructure provision to be collated," said a RICS spokesman.

"This is a significant omission from the Bill and needs to be revised. Without a National Infrastructure Framework there will not be sufficient incentives to join up the planning process for major infrastructure."

A Department for Communities & Local Government spokesman said that cross departmental assessment of UK infrastructure needs is already well covered in the proposed Planning Bill.

"The bill makes provision for National Policy Statements on infrastructure needs that will have input from across government departments and cover a range of issues including transport and energy. It will take account of existing policy on key infrastructure areas and cut across different government departments."

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