Infrastructure panel recommends faster, firmer decision-making


The National Infrastructure Commission’s latest annual assessment of the government’s progress on implementing its infrastructure plans presents a mixed picture, with some positive words.

The report –  Infrastructure Progress Review 2024 – says that there has been some progress in areas the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) identified as priorities in its 2023 review. The government has made further steps in extending devolution arrangements across England. It has revised its national policy statements for energy, national networks and water resources, and updated Ofgem’s duties to include supporting the delivery of net zero. Digital network deployment has continued to make progress, with government on track to deliver its target of 85% gigabit capable broadband coverage by 2025.

But other areas of policy have been not so good. Changes to heat policy have created uncertainty and the government is not on track to meet its target for heat pump rollout.

And scrapping the second leg of HS2 “will inhibit economic growth in the affected regions”, the NIC says.

The report says that the government needs to move more quickly to make up for the lost covid years.

“The government has faced several years of disruption from external shocks such as the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, which has exacerbated delays to infrastructure planning and delivery,” it says. “ The government should accelerate planning and delivery to catch up and ensure the country’s infrastructure is fit for purpose.”

It continues: “Government needs to provide policy stability, making faster decisions and committing to them for the long term. Ambitious goals should be matched with policies of sufficient scale to turn the dial and supported by robust implementation plans. Removing the barriers that slow down and increase the cost of infrastructure delivery is essential, alongside taking further steps on devolving power and funding to local areas.”

It concludes: “While the UK’s infrastructure performs well in some areas, in others there are significant deficiencies that are holding back productivity and impacting quality of life. These include under investment in transport systems in regional English cities, the failure to build major water resource reservoirs in England in the last 30 years, too many properties being at risk of flooding, and recycling rates, which have stalled for a decade.”

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NIC chair Sir John Armitt said: “A window remains to ensure that practical delivery plans are in place, backed up by the necessary public and private funding, to help achieve economic and environmental goals that will improve life for British households. But the window is closing, at least if we don’t want to delay those benefits and compound the disruption of recent years.”

Business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) backed the NIC’s call for speed. Jordan Cummins, CBI competitiveness director, said: “Investment in physical and digital infrastructure, as well as improving connectivity within and between our key economic centres, is a critical enabler of economic activity. It’s also absolutely vital if we want to capitalise on green growth opportunities, particularly those involving low carbon technologies.

“The National Infrastructure Commission is right to identify speed of delivery as essential to success. Without a significant injection of pace, economic growth could be hamstrung, critical climate targets missed, and commercial opportunities lost to international rivals.

“That’s why we need business working in partnership with government at all levels, national, regional and devolved, to scope major projects more effectively, accelerate action and remove barriers to investment – like cumbersome planning processes and inadequate grid capacity.

“Establishing a clear net zero investment plan would also provide certainty of pipeline over the mid-term, giving firms the confidence they need to source essential finance and unleash large-scale investment that can transform the UK economy.”

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) pointed out that faster decision making would reduce costs. “If quick, decisive action is taken, costs will be lower. Inaction will mean the public will pay more in the long run, and these challenges aren’t going away,” said David Hawkes, interim associate director of policy at the ICE.

The National Infrastructure Commission’s Infrastructure Progress Review 2024 is available at nic.org.uk/studies-reports/infrastructure-progress-review-2024



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