Industry calls on government to act after NIC delivers its national assessment

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has delivered its first ever national assessment and industry reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with many saying the report provides the blueprint for infrastructure investment going forward and some of the largest firms and trade associations demanding that minsters stand up and take note.

The commission published its first-ever UK National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) on 10 July 2018, setting out the nation’s long-term strategic needs in transport, water, digital technologies, waste and energy. 

NIC chairman Sir John Armitt says the purpose of the UK’s first-ever assessment is “to think beyond the technologies of today and to ensure we can make the most of future innovations”.  The ever-changing nature of technology underpins why a national assessment will be repeated in five years time.

Some central themes in the detailed paper are for £43bn of long-term transport funding for regional cities with an increased role for metro mayors in the development of infrastructure within their regions. The report also calls for the government to prepare for close to 100% electric new car and van sales by 2030, a national standard of flood resilience for all communities by 2050 and nationwide full fibre broadband by 2033.

Commenting on the NIA, Jonathan White, UK head of infrastructure, building and construction at KPMG, said: “I’m impressed with a comprehensive review from the commission that challenges government to take the necessary steps to ensure that the UK’s infrastructure is fit for purpose in the future. It identifies the need to prioritise the acceleration of a greener energy mix, building on the progress made in this area. This creates opportunities for business, investors and policymakers alike. Infrastructure investment has the ability to transform the economy, but it has undoubtedly been negatively affected by Brexit uncertainty. By taking on board the assessment’s recommendations, the government can send a signal that the UK is open for business and has a clear plan.

David Whysall, managing director of Infrastructure at Turner & Townsend, added: “The NIA sets out a bold vision for a UK which is better connected, more sustainable and more productive.  The onus is now on government, infrastructure clients and the construction supply chain to back and deliver this vision. The most obvious challenge is funding and financing.  Against a backdrop of constrained government spending and unsecured European funding commitments, it’s fundamental that we attract private investment - both domestic and international - into infrastructure. The success of this investment relies on confidence of industry to deliver; we must work hard to build it.  From government, we need a secure pipeline of projects with political backing.” 

Ian Liddell, managing director of the planning and advisory team at WSP, said: “Today’s NIA offers an effective blueprint for future infrastructure investment.  The NIA recognises the need for infrastructure to adapt to meet future challenges such as population growth and climate change. The NIA provides a long-term strategy for doing so, identifying priorities for delivering future ready infrastructure that is reliable and resilient for tomorrow’s climate, society, technology and resources.  We welcome the emphasis on good design and decision making to save money, reduce risks, add value, deliver more projects on time, and create infrastructure that looks good and works well for everyone.”

Director of Copper Consultancy, Ben Heatley, said the NIC’s "rallying cry to invest in infrastructure" is much welcomed but warns "the devil will very much be in the delivery". He added: “How government responds to the NIC’s recommendations is not yet known, but should a plan corresponding to this strategy be implemented, the road to achieving this crucial vision will be a long one. Meanwhile, political timetables are short and focus tends to be on near-term delivery. So a question remains about how aspiration will be turned into concrete. Transparent, two-way conversation with the communities these changes will affect must be a key part of the plan, so that regardless of political leadership, the public’s needs and perspectives remain at the forefront of delivery.”

The NIC also wants £3.8bn to be invested between now and 2030 to make improvements to the country’s social housing stock as well as a switch to low cost greener energy. The switch to greener ways of providing energy to homes and businesses without increasing bills is said to be possible if ministers “act now” and invest in low cost renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, so that these provide at least half the country’s generating capacity by 2030.

Liz Dunn, partner for infrastructure consenting at law firm Burges Salmon, said: “The NIA marks a vital milestone in the delivery of infrastructure in the UK, in analysing the country’s long-term infrastructure needs.  A key issue that it addresses is the need to encourage investment in green projects and technologies. The infrastructure sector has the ability, skills and resources to deliver what the public sector needs and by collaborating towards common aims and working in partnership they can achieve the government’s ambitious aims.”

Director of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) Marie-Claude Hemming said: “CECA campaigned for many years for an infrastructure commission, to resolve the short-termism and lack of long-term strategy that has historically undermined the delivery of major infrastructure projects in the UK. We welcome the fact that today’s report starts to make this vision a reality. It is vital that government addresses the recommendations of this report as soon as possible to ensure the UK thrives as a great place to do business, live and work.”

Bram Miller, director of environment and health, at Ramboll, said: “Encouragingly in relation to roads, the assessment places a strong focus on readiness for electric, autonomous and connected vehicles. Hopefully this report and the recommendations it makes can provide the necessary catalyst to rapidly accelerate the conversion of the UK’s vehicle fleet, without which the roads sector cannot make its contribution to carbon reduction targets nor address its air quality impacts. It is pleasing to see that the report places strong emphasis on design quality as well as on also on a broader, more holistic approach to project appraisal and measuring the performance of infrastructure, including importantly the implications on natural capital.”

Nick Baveystock, ICE director general, said: “Resilient infrastructure is vital for creating a more sustainable future for Britain. With an aging, and growing, population it is essential that infrastructure meets the future needs of society – this requires a long-term strategic approach to allow for effective planning and delivery. In publishing this detailed and comprehensive plan, the NIC has recognised the important areas that need clear strategic direction, from cleaner energy sources to digital transformation to improved flood defences. It is now up to the industry, clients and departments to work together to make these recommendations a reality.”

Meanwhile John Acres, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said: “The UK must take better and bolder infrastructure decisions to face the immense challenges and opportunities ahead. We need the ambition and scope the commission has set, but crucially we need to get delivery right.  Resourcing planning departments effectively underpins the delivery of almost every recommendation in the report and is the only way we can get value for money from the proposed investment.”

To view the report in full, click here.

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