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We need to get the job done the best way we can

There is nothing like discussion and proposals on the reform of planning regimes to reinforce the benefits of benign dictatorships. When it comes to efficient and effective decision making, they really cannot be beaten.

And right now, we need a new regime of efficient and cost effective decision-making to help drive us through the financial downturn.

This week’s BBC survey of local authority funding expectations provided yet more confirmation of the likely public sector cuts that NCE has been warning of for months.

This reality is at the heart of our more for less agenda. As I set out two weeks ago, this is a mantra that you are going to be hearing a lot more about in the nine months before the Infrastructure Show. Look out for the logo.

After all, the prospect of a 20% fall in public funding and investment from 2011 is a huge concern across the industry.

Yet in the week that Labour’s Infrastructure Planning Commission came into being − a process accepted as a major step towards removing the costly planning burden placed in the way of project delivery − we also saw the launch of the Conservatives’ planning regime which vows to rip up this process.

I have my concerns with this proposal and I worry that the politicians behind it do not appreciate the role the planning process plays in the cost efficient delivery of infrastructure.

“We must take encouragement that infrastructure projects will have to remain at the heart of the economic recovery”

The Tories’ so-called “Open Source Planning” system will, it maintains, bring about “radical change” to replace a “broken system” by decentralising power and giving local people a greater say in the development of their communities.

My concerns are rooted in the increasing desire by politicians − across the spectrum − to engage the local community on the false pretext of offering choice. As the Tory plan puts it: “to create a system where local governments can produce their own distinctive local policies”.

It is a nonsense and simply adds to the bureaucratic burden and cost of delivery, none of which we can realistically afford right now.

There are difficult and challenging times ahead for the industry. Yet in the face of this gloomy local outlook we must also take encouragement that major infrastructure projects will have to remain at the heart of the nation’s economic recovery.

As we read this week, high speed rail is critical to the future development of regional economies of the UK as will new investment to update and improve our water supplies and treatment facilities across the nation.

And we know that a generation of nuclear power stations and a new wave of renewable power generation will be critical to replace our aging and high carbon fleet of generators.

Yet without an effective and perhaps draconian planning system we run the risk of failing to deliver on these critical areas. While choice and local engagement are nice in theory, the efficient delivery of critical infrastructure needs a more decisive regime.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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