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RTPI calls for smarter infrastructure planning

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has launched its latest report, focussed on infrastructure planning, in which it calls for a smarter and more joined-up approach to infrastructure.

The report cautions that failing to adopt a more joined-up approach to planning the UK’s towns and cities will make it impossible to meet the challenges of climate change, population growth and environmental risks over the coming decades.

The report, ‘A Smarter Approach to Infrastructure Planning’, highlights the complex and fragmented approaches to planning infrastructure such as transport, energy, water, schools and hospitals.

Recommendations from the report include devolving more powers and funding to local authorities for infrastructure, as well as establishing local dedicated teams who are focused solely on infrastructure coordination.

The study comes as the issue of sustainable infrastructure was championed at the UN Climate Action summit in New York this week, while some £600M in infrastructure funding was promised by Chancellor Sajid Javid in his Spending Review.

James Harris, policy and networks manager at the RTPI, said: “While we welcome more funding for infrastructure, politicians need to focus on more joined-up planning to integrate this into our villages, towns and cities.

“There is an urgent need to upgrade much of the country’s existing infrastructure so we can reach net zero carbon, respond to growing environment risks such as flooding and overheating, accommodate population and demographic change and enable sustainable development of residential, commercial and industrial space.

“The priorities of government and infrastructure providers are currently too focused on service delivery rather than addressing strategic and place-based challenges.”

Citing three case studies, Staffordshire County Council, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Glasgow City Council, accompanied by a national online survey, the report identifies key barriers to effective infrastructure planning, such as:

  • A lack of leadership at the national level on the direction of strategic spatial planning
  • Complex multi-level governance of infrastructure, with multiple providers operating across different geographies, timescales and regulatory regimes
  • A lack of stable long-term funding for local authorities, coupled with a dependence on competitive funding pots and developer contributions
  • A tendency to prioritise short-term project delivery over place-based objectives

Hannah Hickman, Senior Research Fellow at the University of the West of England, said: “Central government needs to show greater leadership by setting a strategic direction for infrastructure and addressing the negative impacts of a ‘deal’ based approach to infrastructure funding. It should also examine how early engagement between local authorities, providers and other stakeholders can be facilitated, to ensure that infrastructure and land use is effectively planned.”

This report comes hot on the heels of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), State of the Nation report, which proposes regional infrastructure strategies as a way of ensuring effective integration of infrastructure and housing planning across boundaries and at local, regional, and national level.

Chris Richards, ICE’s head of policy and public affairs, said: “The principles for good planning, set out in RTPI’s report, provide a solid pathway for improving the way local infrastructure is delivered. Finding ways to unlock the potential of our infrastructure networks in order to deliver improved outcomes for local communities and businesses is an important way forward.”

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