Involve the public in major infrastructure projects, says new report

The government should create a new commission to involve local people in major infrastructure projects, argues a new report.

How to design an infrastructure strategy for the UK, published today by the independent Institute for Government (IfG), argues that a commission for public engagement would reduce costly delays by giving people a genuine opportunity to influence decisions. It should draw on the example of the Commission Nationale du Débat Public in France, which has successfully reduced public opposition to major projects.

The report also finds that the absence of a national strategy for infrastructure has serious implications. New projects are dreamt up, reframed, scrapped and reinvented, seemingly with little consideration of long-term objectives - a clear example of this, being airport expansion in the South East, says the report. Co-ordination between different parts of government and regions of the UK is poor, resulting in less beneficial infrastructure, the report claims.

To resolve this, the government should:

  • Develop a long-term national infrastructure strategy that properly co-ordinates the work of central and local government and more clearly spells out the impact on all regions
  • Reinstate the position of commercial secretary to the Treasury, with a portfolio entirely focused on infrastructure and delivering a national infrastructure strategy
  • Strengthen the independence and mandate of the National Infrastructure Commission. 

Nick Davies, associate director at the Institute for Government and report author, said: “With no overarching strategy and projects spread across eight different government departments and various tiers of local government, it is no wonder infrastructure decisions in this country continue to be plagued by uncertainty, delays and increased costs. 

“By strengthening the National Infrastructure Commission, creating a national strategy and better engaging the public, the government can deliver better infrastructure for the whole country.”

The challenges facing UK infrastructure are not just the fault of individual organisations or people, says the IfG. There are also systemic problems with government institutions and the politics of infrastructure decision making in the UK, they claim, which need to be addressed urgently in order to develop a coherent strategy for the future.

Click here to download the report, How to design an infrastructure strategy for the UK.

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