What next for National Infrastructure Commission?

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

Home » What next for National Infrastructure Commission?

Published: 20th September 2016

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

  


In a surprising turn of events, the government has scrapped plans to launch a National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), favouring instead a Neighbourhood Planning Bill. With no prospect of a replacement, industry giants have been left wondering, what next for Britain’s ailing transport system?

Championed by George Osborne back in 2015, the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill was intended to provide the Treasury with advice and guidance concerning the housing and transport needs of the nation.

However, last week in a shocking turn of events the government dropped the infrastructure aspect of the bill completely, negating any hopes of a commission. Osborne’s plan to legislate for a commission, completely independent of party politics, have seemingly simply disappeared.

While the introduction of a Neighbourhood Planning Bill has been welcomed by the housing sector, plans for the National Infrastructure Commission appear to be stuck in political purgatory. With high hopes for a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill dashed, industry leaders have voiced their displeasure on the matter.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claim the NIC was to address eight significant areas for the future of British business, including:

  • solutions to meet the growing demand on the roads, rails and ports;
  • providing a safe, low-carbon energy supply;
  • preparing for 5G mobile connectivity to be rolled-out.

These issues are seen as critical to the future success of the UK economy and have, effectively, been left in limbo.  

Richard Threlfall, UK head of infrastructure at KPMG, said: “I am dismayed at the Government’s decision not to press ahead with plans to create the National Infrastructure Commission as a statutory body. Infrastructure planning in this country has been bedevilled for years by political short-termism and inconsistency.

“The whole point of the National Infrastructure Commission is to provide long-term stability to the UK’s infrastructure planning. If it is not established in statute, then its very existence will be constantly under threat from political whim.”

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Housing spokesman, said: “We are surprised there is no mention of the National Infrastructure Commission in the new Neighbourhood Planning Bill. Councils see the establishment of a national body that will enable much more robust long-term strategic decision as a step in the right direction. 

“We hope the Government remains fully committed to the need for such a body and one that recognises the vital role of local authorities in delivering infrastructure for a modern economy and all communities.”

Rhian Kelly, CBI business environment director, said: “The National Infrastructure Commission gives the UK the perfect opportunity to carefully and strategically plot the course of its long-term infrastructure needs.

“With a strong Commission, we can deliver the projects – from upgrading our digital connectivity to boost productivity, to investing in new energy sources for a low-carbon economy.  

“For this to happen though, it’s vital the Commission is not blown off course by politics. This independent body must be given strong teeth by politicians so that it can recommend significant infrastructure decisions are made for the future benefit of all.

The bill has now been published and contains not a single mention of the National Infrastructure Commission leaving politicians and business people alike in the dark about the future of British infrastructure. Speculation grows about what plans, if any, the new prime minister and chancellor have for the introduction of the NIC.

However, an NIC spokesperson said: “This government has made clear that it strongly supports the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and its ongoing work.”

While the Neighbourhood Planning Bill promises to empower communities and planners with a greater say in local land use, the construction industry as a whole has been left wondering whether the NIC is the first in a long line of post-Brexit casualties.


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