Lords back Adonis call for Infrastructure Commission

Lord Adonis

The House of Lords last week strongly backed the idea of creation of an Infrastructure Commission following a motion proposed by former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis.

Lord Adonis, Sir John Armitt and shadow chancellor Ed Balls continue their campaign for the body next week at the UK Infrastructure Conference to discuss the final recommendations of the Armitt Infrastructure Review relating to the proposed National Infrastructure Commission.

"Although significant headway has been made on programmes like Crossrail and the Thames Tideway Tunnel, it has taken years, if not decades, for construction to start" - Lord Adonis

The Commission, which has been promoted and backed by Labour, would have the remit to analyse, assess and prioritise the medium to long-term requirements of national infrastructure.

In his speech last week in support of his motion that "the house takes note of the case for improving investment in and planning for the UK’s national infrastructure", Adonis said there had been significant under investment in the nation’s infrastructure. While there was overwhelming support among politicians and the public for greater investment in the country’s framework, Adonis stressed the need to “make it happen” through better planning, financing and leadership.

“We need political leaders and governments, national and local, to choose to give a higher priority to housing and infrastructure,” he said, “being prepared to take controversial decisions where they can’t or shouldn’t be ducked.”

Adonis likened the role of a National Infrastructure Commission to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, an independent institution set up to provide impartial analysis of fiscal policy.

With public investment in housing and infrastructure on the decline, Adonis was critical of the coalition government's record,  highlighting the continued “stop-go” nature as hindering the progress of several potential programmes of work.

Adonis said the inability of government to form a long-term consensus on key infrastructure priorities and projects has necessitated the call for an independent commission. Although significant headway has been made on programmes like Crossrail and the Thames Tideway Tunnel, it has taken years, if not decades, for construction to start.

“Airport expansion in the South East of England, vitally needed bridges across the East Thames, many major new housing developments, and much of the green energy agenda have been stymied, not just by understandable differences of opinion, but by a protracted inability to resolve these differences at the political level,” Lord Adonis lamented.

As well as setting up a new commission, Adonis said devolution will afford city and county regions more power to plan and implement their own transport infrastructure.

He cited the Greater London Authority as an organisation, which has been crucial to improving the city’s framework. He also drew on the success of the 2012 London Olympics, and said it must be a platform other city and county regions adopt to make infrastructure improvements.

“The challenge is to create fit for purpose institutions, which means more and more powerful combined authorities,”  Adonis explained. “2012 was Britain at its best: let’s make it the model for the future.”