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Queen’s Speech | National Infrastructure Commission gets statutory boost

Houses of Parliament

New statutory backing for the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has been outlined today in the 2016 Queen’s Speech.

The Queen outlined the government’s agenda for the new Parliamentary session, referencing 21 legislative proposals including the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.

The Bill aims to reform planning and give local communities more power and control to shape their own area. The Bill also includes a new statutory basis for the NIC, to help invest in Britain’s future through an overarching and independent assessment of the nation’s long-term infrastructure needs. The Commission will be tasked with setting out a strategic vision on the future infrastructure that is needed to ensure the UK economy is fit for 2050.

“Setting the Commission on a statutory footing formalises and upholds its role and purpose, this is an important milestone,” commented Sir John Armitt, Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) President and member of the NIC.

“The mood in the Commission is very positive, as we work towards developing proposals on the deployment of 5G and the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor.

“Critical work to identify the UK’s longer term infrastructure needs is also progressing, and the independent ICE-led National Needs Assessment – which will be provided to the Commission in the autumn to support its own needs analysis – is currently being produced following a period of extensive evidence gathering across the UK.”

Institution of Mechanical Engineers head of transport and manufacturing Philippa Oldham agreed that the statutory backing for the NIC was a positive move, but insisted that government must act on the Commission’s recommendations.

“It is good news that the National Infrastructure Commission is to be given a statutory footing but government must listen to their recommendations and act upon them in a timely fashion,” she said. “With any developments of infrastructure, we must make sure all options are considered including looking at the role of off-grid generation as and better integrated transport networks.”

Oldham also welcomed plans outlined in the Bill to expedite the planning process, but suggested more focus must be on increasing off-site modular construction. “Plans announced to streamline planning conditions will also help speed up the construction of much needed housing, but government should look at the role that could be played by modular off-site building,” she said. “Off-site construction technologies have advanced greatly in recent years and can offer shorter build times, better quality, better energy efficiency, less waste, and lower costs for buyers.”

Also included in today’s speech, the Modern Transport Bill was announced and underlined government’s aims to ensure the UK is at the forefront of the modern transport revolution. The Bill will include new laws to make the UK ready to pioneer driverless cars, as well as legislation to enable future development of the UK’s first commercial spaceports.

“Great Britain has the opportunity to become a global leader in developing autonomous vehicles as we have some of the most open regulation in the world with the Department for Transport issuing its Code of Practice for testing last year,” commented Oldham. “In addition this open regulation should attract investment to the country encouraging others to come and test and develop their solutions here.”

She added: “We must make sure that we understand how the users (the public and businesses) want to use these vehicles. Bringing together industry, legislators, regulators and members of the general public will ensure that we integrate and implement new regulatory regimes at the right time.

“It is particularly encouraging that government will make insurance available to users of driverless cars, and measures to encourage investment into electric vehicles, commercial space planes and drones is positive news for business and transport users.”

However, independent group Campaign for Better Transport raised concerns that government risks focusing on futuristic technology at the expense of “everyday transport”, but welcomed plans outlined in the Bus Services Bill to devolve more power to directly elected mayors in England, including powers governing local bus services.

“Autonomous vehicles and space ports are all well and good, but most people would prefer to see their everyday transport sorted out first: the Bus Services Bill will be a step in the right direction,” said Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph.

“The Bill will give local authorities which have agreed devolution deals, and maybe others, more power to plan and manage local bus services. This should help authorities tempt people out of their cars into buses in our cities, but it must also ensure people living in isolated, rural areas are not forgotten and that they also benefit.”

Following today’s State Opening of Parliament, the government’s programme will be debated by both Houses. The subsequent debate, which lasts several days, is a chance for MPs to speak on any matter of government.

Northern Powerhouse

The government’s plans to continue to support the development of a Northern Powerhouse – government’s vision for the North of England – were also outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech.

In a statement, the government said that significant progress had already been made on work to build the Northern Powerhouse, including giving the go ahead to High Speed 3 between Leeds and Manchester, creating Transport for the North, and agreeing devolution deals in varies northern cities.

“We are investing in better transport to connect up the North; backing strengths in science and innovation; investing in culture, housing and the quality of life to make the North a magnet for new businesses and talented people; and devolving powers and budgets and creating powerful new elected mayors who will give people in northern cities and towns a strong voice,” the statement said.

Responding to the speech, a Transport for the North (TfN) spokesperson said it welcomed confirmation that significant attention is going to be given to measures to further modernise the UK’s transport infrastructure and that an innovative approach is being taken towards transformational change. “The sharing of route, fare and schedule data with app developers are exactly the sort of measures we need to be considering and adopting as we move towards more a more efficient transport infrastructure both in the North and in the rest of the UK,” added the TfN spokesperson.

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