North East should be the powerhouse of the next industrial revolution.
Much has changed during the last few years, not least the formation of a coalition government, the unprecedented turmoil in global financial markets and the resulting significant reduction in public spending. The focus of national infrastructure policy, while recognising the continued need to reduce carbon emissions, has shifted towards stimulating economic growth and the regional tier of government has been almost completely removed.
Arguably, this and the increased profile that the ICE has been able to cultivate both nationally and regionally in recent years, represents a great opportunity for the Institution to engage with both national governments, and the developing Local Enterprise Partnerships in the English regions, in a way that we have never been able to do in the past. But it is clear that we need to work together with other bodies to do this effectively and identify the infrastructure priorities which are of paramount importance to the future of all UK regions.
Vital infrastructure investment
There is an acknowledgement that investment in infrastructure is vital if the UK is to sustain economic recovery and be competitive in a global market. The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), published in 2010, set out a strategy for some £200bn of infrastructure investment before 2015. The second version of the NIP, due later in this year, should expand on this commitment.
The Government’s move towards localism is intended to give communities a greater say in their development and decentralise decision making. In infrastructure terms, this could well lead to budgets for some major schemes being devolved to local consortiums and we heard last week that Local Enterprise Partnerships will be responsible for deciding what local projects to prioritise and applying for the funds to get them off the ground. We hope putting local organisations and experts in the driving seat will help provide a more informed appraisal of our infrastructure needs and a speedier mechanism for delivery, but of course, it is early days.
Vital regional support
So, both nationally and locally, now is the time to be very clear and specific about the infrastructure that UK regions require to support recovery and make the most of the significant economic assets in these areas. In the North East these include renewable energy, aviation and shipping, advanced manufacturing, electric vehicles, petrochemicals and tourism.
But being mindful of the likelihood that public spending will be constrained in the foreseeable future, we need to invest in the right infrastructure at the right time.
The North East was the birthplace of the railways and arguably the powerhouse of the last industrial revolution. Today it is fast developing as a leader in the field of renewable energy with cutting edge forms of generation both on shore in the Tees Valley and Northumberland and offshore in the North Sea, as well as the development of electric car technology at Nissan’s expanding Sunderland plant.
Let us work together with partners to help make the North East the powerhouse of the next industrial revolution and perhaps also help raise the status of the civil engineering profession.
- Stephen Larkin is ICE North East regional director