Cities share good practice for developing local infrastructure strategies

A new toolkit curated by the National Infrastructure Commission is offering advice to cities on developing local infrastructure strategies.

A new toolkit curated by the National Infrastructure Commission is offering advice to cities on developing local infrastructure strategies to underpin improvements in transport, housing and employment prospects.

The guidance seeks to maximise the impact of further devolution of powers and funding to city regions recommended by the Commission, by sharing experience and knowledge between local authorities on how locally developed strategies can be both ambitious and effective.

The cities programme began in 2018 after the Commission published the UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment. It was built around a series of events for cities to share knowledge and best practice, alongside in-depth work with a selection of five case study cities – Basildon, Derby, Exeter, Liverpool and West Yorkshire – as they embarked on developing their own local infrastructure strategies. These strategies are all due to be published by the relevant authority over the next year.

Today’s report follows the commission’s call in the National Infrastructure Assessment for government to invest more in urban transport and offer devolved, long-term funding settlements to all cities. The commission also recommended that government work with local authorities to identify a wave of major transport projects, such as new tram services, in the fastest growing, most congested cities to enable sustainable growth.

While some progress has been made – for instance an announcement in the spring Budget that eight combined authorities with elected metro mayors would receive five-year funding settlements for transport – the Commission continues to recommend that further steps should be taken to enable cities leaders to develop transformative local strategies.

Working in partnership with local authorities across the country, the Commission has drawn together common aspects of successful strategies. The eight principles include:

  • Developing a compelling vision that engages citizens, senior officials and elected members and sets the objectives for their strategy;
  • Careful scoping, identifying where policy areas beyond core infrastructure – such as health and wellbeing, inclusion, environment and the economy – can contribute to achieving the aims of the strategy;
  • Developing strategies in dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders, including across political parties and professions;
  • Gathering strong evidence, assessing available data and identifying gaps;
  • Being open to the full range of options available to deliver the strategic aims – including considering maintenance and upgrade;
  • Stress testing plans to ensure they are resilient to possible shocks;
  • Clear prioritization and a pragmatic approach to what is achievable, building on the options and testing process;
  • Building in evaluation from the start of the process – including allocating budgets.

The guidance was launched today (7/10/20) at a virtual event co-hosted by Centre for Cities and addressed by Sir John Armitt, chair of the Commission, and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester. 

Sir John, addressing delegates from across the country, said: “We’re pleased to have been able to convene a group of pioneering cities who have been willing to work with the Commission, sharing their successes and their challenges for the benefit of others. Our work with colleagues in Basildon, Derby, Exeter, Liverpool City Region and West Yorkshire has helped us draw together valuable lessons on how local strategies can make a positive difference for citizens.

“There was consensus with our view that to unlock the full potential of cities and regions, ministers must give city leaders greater autonomy over transport decisions and longer-term funding settlements.

“Since then, ‘levelling up’ has become part of the political lexicon. And at the Budget earlier in the year, the government took a welcome first step by committing to devolved transport budgets for city regions with mayors. Now, the need for additional investment and a new vision for local infrastructure is just as significant as ever, but the environment we find ourselves in is altogether less familiar.

“The coronavirus outbreak has not only had a huge personal and social price for so many, but it has severely rattled the national and global economy. And I know that many of you joining this event today have faced unprecedented pressures, at the frontline of helping the most vulnerable in our communities.

“The pandemic has changed our lives beyond recognition and instinctively we question whether some of the changes – and particularly these new patterns of work and mobility – will endure after the crisis.

“There is one thing about which I am confident. While we may not go back to old patterns of work and mobility, different and new patterns of demand will likely emerge. It is unlikely that we will see  an end to the desire or need to travel within and between our cities and towns. History suggests that cities can and do bounce back from major shocks.

“Alongside a fresh approach to identifying major projects, we think the case remains compelling for further devolution and multi-year funding settlements for transport to help all cities plan and prepare themselves for the future.

“I hope the guidance we are launching today goes some way towards ensuring that city leaders can stand ready for the challenges and opportunities this offers, when you are in a position to address those.

“Infrastructure has an incredible, game-changing ability when we get it right. And, of course, I hope central government feels able to play their part in releasing the powers and resources you need – whether through the National Infrastructure Strategy anticipated later this year, or other policy statements.”

Click here to download the NIC report: Principles for effective urban infrastructure.

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