Leading industry figures have backed the creation of a national infrastructure commission – and suggested what its priorities should be.
Chancellor George Osborne announced plans for the Lord Adonis-chaired National Infrastructure Commission at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester last week.
Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: “The development of infrastructure in the UK has, historically, lacked long-term strategy. This has meant that large projects such as Crossrail and High Speed 1 have taken far too long to develop and build.
“These delays, mainly caused by a lack of political consensus, have been costly for the taxpayer and UK plc. While substantial progress has been made - most notably the development of the National Infrastructure Plan - the new infrastructure commission will help government deliver a long-term strategy to ensure the UK’s infrastructure truly meets the expectations of business and the general public.
“It is now vital that appointments are made that reflect the wide views of the UK as a whole, to ensure that the commission builds support across the political spectrum.”
ICE director-general Nick Baveystock said: “This is a bold and positive move by the government. Infrastructure must be planned for the long term and the pressing need for an independent body, as a mechanism to build political consensus, has been recognised.
“We look forward to working with the commission – the ICE has already convened a coalition of business, industry and academic leaders to produce an evidence-based assessment of the UK’s future infrastructure needs and we hope this can feed into the work. This is about making the right strategic choices.”
Malcolm Bairstow, head of infrastructure at accountants Ernst & Young, added: “The mantra of the commission should be bold thinking, innovative design, swift planning and efficient execution, but there are also numerous fundamental issues that will need to be addressed to ensure success. These include training and skills shortages as well as access to private sector financing and funding.
“The industry must now rally round to help Lord Adonis bring together the major players in infrastructure and drive investment, while balancing the need for democratic oversight and timely challenges to a project’s feasibility, value for money and impact on society.”
Richard Robinson, who is chief executive of civil infrastructure across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India at consultants Aecom, said: “While today’s announcement is welcome news to those tasked with delivering the UK’s infrastructure, industry optimism may be tempered with caution.
“The infrastructure commission must have the necessary binding decision-making powers to initiate infrastructure and get Britain building. It’s crucial the commission doesn’t become a long-grass forum into which politically charged projects are kicked,” he added.
“Attempting to de-politicise infrastructure decision-making may help bring some of the UK’s critically needed infrastructure projects to fruition.
“Lord Adonis’s appointment is a smart move: more than just a political coup, it sends a signal that the commission will be truly cross-party. The challenge now is delivery. Ensuring the UK has the technical and organisational skills to deliver must be a priority,” said Robinson.
Employers body the CBI’s director-general John Cridland said: “Updating the UK’s infrastructure is critical to sustainable growth and productivity, and we’ve long called for an independent body to assess our long-term needs.
“Businesses will want to see the new infrastructure commission hit the ground running, and top of its national action list should be assessing the Trans-Pennine railway, Crossrail 2, and the Horizon new nuclear plant at Wylfa.”
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors head of UK policy Jeremy Blackburn said: “The commission should be more than just an Office for Budget Responsibility for infrastructure and, while it needs to identify needs and pressures, it is also important that it identifies suitable investment and time periods for all types of project based on their potential for supporting future growth.
“Fundamentally we need to understand the relationship between Infrastructure UK and this new body and how it will work with the emerging combined authorities and existing local enterprise partnerships.”
“With the Conservative conference in Manchester and the momentum behind the Northern Powerhouse, the new commission needs to focus first on the improvements in transport infrastructure and services across the North and Midlands, which have had relative underinvestment for too long.”