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Industry calls for independent infrastructure body

ICE puts weight behind calls for independent infrastructure body.

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) have joined industry calls for an independent infrastructure body to oversee and identify the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs. However the organisation has questioned the need for a brand new body, urging political parties to consider the possibility of such a body being created by building on existing frameworks.

The ICE backing follows Sir John Armitt’s Review which calls for a new approach to infrastructure, preparing the country for the major challenges it faces with regard to population growth and climate change. ICE have responded to the review, and sent it to other main political parties, saying it agreed with the fundamental analysis of the issues holding back the UK infrastructure development, and the need for an evidence based infrastructure strategy, a robust plan that ensures the strategy translates to activity on the ground and an independent body locked in by legislation.

The response called for the plans for a National Infrastructure Commission that Armitt has proposed need to be refined and further developed. It also said that the principles could be successfully applied to the existing frameworks by restructuring HMT’s Infrastructure UK as a non-govermental body.

Simon Grubb, ICE’s funding spokesperson, said a restructured body “could be operational more quickly than an entirely new body, avoiding loss of the hard won momentum behind infrastructure delivery secured in the last five to ten years.” He also said it would avoid uncertainty around the governance of UK infrastructure, which could deter potential investors.

The proposed restructure of Infrastructure UK would create a new independent infrastructure body would established through an Act of Parliament. The body would perform four main functions:

· Strategy – establishing a long term, evidence based strategy for infrastructure drawing on the most up-to-date data and scenarios for population growth, demographic changes and their impact on growth, climate change risk assessments, Met Office simulations of changing weather patterns and economic/social policy objectives.

· National Investment and Delivery Plan – adapting the National Infrastructure Plan to focus on investment and delivery, so projects are packaged with clearly identified funding streams, and directly align to meeting specific strategic objectives.  The body would work with government departments, regulators, private and public organisations and local communities to establish a rolling ten year plan. The plan would be delivered to Parliament at the start of each new administration and debated so consensus can be determined on new projects. Projects previously agreed would not be altered without Parliamentary approval following material change in the evidence base.

· Performance – ensuring the National Investment and Delivery Plan is consistent with the strategy objectives by evaluating the delivery status of projects included in it and the performance of the actual networks. The performance function would build on the work of the Major Infrastructure Tracking Team, the Major Projects Authority and the National Audit Office.

· Public Engagement – establishing a wide ranging and proactive programme of public engagement to replace the current more reactive process.  Proactive, transparent community engagement would highlight planning challenges, build buy in and help to inform the development of the National Investment and Delivery Plan. Over time, the process would build trust, confidence and credibility into the decision making process.

Simon Grubb said: “There is clearly a mismatch between the long term nature of strategic infrastructure planning and short term political cycles and the need to identify a way to deal with the negative consequences is growing more pressing.

“This does not mean removing the politics from decisions on infrastructure as this is neither possible nor desirable – but establishing a framework from which political parties can build consensus on the UK’s infrastructure needs, and importantly one with public engagement at its heart so we foster a link between the users and the providers of infrastructure.

“Sir John Armitt’s proposed alternative to the status quo is a valuable contribution to the infrastructure debate. ICE concurs with his analysis of what is stifling UK infrastructure development, and we agree on the need for some form of independent body. However, ultimately such a body would need to be established and effective quickly if we are to avoid stalling the momentum that has been achieved and shaking investor confidence at this crucial time.

“We believe Sir John’s proposal could be refined and further developed – and that the principles could then be applied to the existing Infrastructure UK, reforming it as a non-governmental body more quickly than a completely new entity. We urge all parties to consider the workability of this approach.”