Sir John Armitt backs infrastructure as he takes up office of ICE President

The Institution of Civil Engineers is to lead a coalition that will create a new national needs assessment on infrastructure says Sir John Armitt as he begins his term as the 151st ICE President.

Sir John Armitt

Giving his presidential address at the Institution of Civil Engineers, the 151st President Sir John Armit announced that ICE will lead a coalition of business, academic, environment and industry experts to produce a national needs assessment which will feed into the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

Last month Armitt was appointed to become one of seven Commissioners on the newly established NIC, which originated from his recommendations. 

"We will harness the group’s expertise to help the Commission develop a shared long term vision to 2050"

“We will begin work on an independent, evidence based needs assessment. We will harness the group’s expertise to help the Commission develop a shared long term vision to 2050, and ultimately help to inform the many complex choices ahead,” he said.

The national needs assessment, to be published in Autumn 2016, will draw from data, analysis, open consultations and evidence hearings, and set out what we are likely to need from infrastructure up to 2050, considering factors such as climate change and population growth. It will then set out different options for meeting those needs, and will be designed to inform both national and regional infrastructure plans.

Delivering his address to industry leaders and politicians the former Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority also said that in the face of conflicting political and public views, lack of funds, skills shortages and growing demands on infrastructure, it was time to start asking ‘why’ when it comes to decision making.

“When faced with tough choices, Government, industry, investors and the public alike should always start by asking 'why?'"

“Why do we need this project? Why one project over alternatives? Why is this seventy year solution more appropriate, or will a twenty year solution suffice - and can we make better use of existing infrastructure. What are the benefits, risks and opportunities of each?” he said.

“When faced with tough choices, Government, industry, investors and the public alike should always start by asking ‘why’. This will ensure choices are strategic, and that public and private money, charges to customers, and investors’ funds are used for best collective benefit,” he added.

Armitt was appointed as a Commissioner for the newly created National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) in late October. Having masterminded the successful delivery of the 2012 London Olympics infrastructure, Armitt was asked by the Labour Party in October 2012 to review long term infrastructure planning in the UK.

A key recommendation in his report was the idea of an independent National Infrastructure Commission to look 25-30 years ahead at the UK’s future needs across all significant national infrastructure and set clear priorities.

"I am pleased to see cross party support for a Commission, and to be part of something I have advocated and believe in," he said.

“The public pay for infrastructure - either as taxpayers, shareholders or customers of utilities – they are the end users of it, and are impacted by its construction. As a result, politicians are ultimately held to account by the voter and are bound to interfere for good and bad. We cannot change this. But we need a mechanism which provides dispassionate analysis of our long-term infrastructure needs and acts as a catalyst for reaching consensus on those needs. The effects of achieving consensus cannot be overstated – it could enable the kind of infrastructure revolution not seen since our great forebears in the 19th Century. ” he said.

In an exclusive interview with Infrastructure Intelligence last month Armitt said that the NIC has three key short term issues to consider ahead of the Chancellor George Osborne allocating resources in March 2016: Northern connectivity and HS3; Crossrail 2 and energy storage and making the grid more efficient.

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