On 10 July 2018, the National Infrastructure Commission
(‘NIC’) published its ‘National Infrastructure Assessment’ (‘NIA’). The document sets out an ambitious and long-term plan for the delivery of infrastructure in the UK from 2020 to 2050 with a series of recommendations that are intended to equip the country with the infrastructure that it most needs.
Intended to be the first of a series of similar assessments published every five years, the report builds on work carried out and described in an earlier and interim report published in October 2017 entitled “Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for National Infrastructure”. The NIC seeks to move the agenda forward and sets out several ‘targets’ that are based on responses received to the interim report, as well as findings from engagement with a range of organisations in recent months and also through the NIC’s own analysis and modelling.
The foreword of the NIA, by Sir John Armitt, Chair of the NIC, notes that: -
’Providing the right infrastructure for the future does not just entail delivering the running water, roads and rail that traditionally spring to mind, although these are important. The UK needs fast, reliable internet connections. It needs low cost energy and transport that doesn’t harm the planet. It needs to make cities liveable for the growing urban population. It needs to reduce the plastic waste that can end up in our oceans. It needs water supply and flood defences that can respond to the risk of extreme floods and drought. All this needs to be done in a way that is well designed, and affordable for the government and the public.’
So whilst those looking forward to an Arthur C. Clarke version of the UK’s future may therefore be disappointed, the report acknowledges that presenting a more realistic ‘Tomorrow’s World’ is necessary to provide guidance to planners and policy makers.
It is clear that the NIA seeks to leave the delivery of the more ‘traditional’ infrastructure (rail, road, utilities, airports) to the now established consenting processes and policy vehicles that have been set up to assist in bringing them forward by operators, providers and developers. The NIA, meanwhile, is interesting for perhaps two reasons. First in providing a focus on the types of infrastructure in which the UK should be investing but perhaps would not otherwise come forward without a clear step-change in government thinking; and second in establishing a new way to think about infrastructure, with a focus on how it affects the population’s quality of life and the success of the economy.
We will examine the details of the document over the coming weeks and months but, for now, we provide a short summary of the key targets identified by the NIA.
In addition to this, the NIA sets out recommendations to improve how decisions are made on infrastructure proposals, including through the establishment of a clear framework for measuring infrastructure performance, and also to bring about better-quality design of nationally significant infrastructure projects. On the latter, the board proposes the establishment of a National Infrastructure Design Group and the use of design panels to review development proposals.
Finally, the report reviews how the proposals will be funded and financed making the comment that: -
“The recommendations set out in this Assessment are not simply a wish list. The recommendations are affordable within the resources set out by the government and provide a full costed plan for infrastructure spending without significant additional costs to billpayers.”
Some headlines from the NIC’s recommendations as to how resources should be allocated throughout the period to 2050 include:-
- Prioritising broadband and electric vehicle charging in the short term and prioritise urban transport over intercity transport in the 2030s;
- Balancing rail expenditure in the 2020s with other priorities and establish a budget of £24 billion from 2023/24 to 2039/40 for Northern Powerhouse Rail;
- Providing a gradual increase in the budget for flood protection but also allow some headroom in the budget in the latter years towards 2050 to allow for new technologies that may emerge;
- Giving local authorities more powers to capture a fair proportion of the increases in the value of land for planning and infrastructure provision.
In conclusion, and whilst a little light on exciting new methods of space travel or other headline-grabbing futurology, the NIA does set out a realistic and considered approach to the country’s infrastructure priorities. We look forward to the Government’s response on this vision of our future later this year.
 Chaired by Sir John Armitt CBE, the NIC was established in 2015 as an executive agency of the Treasury. Its aim is to provide impartial, expert advice and make independent recommendations to the government on economic infrastructure. This advice is shaped from the commissioning of studies and engagement with government, industry, interest groups and other stakeholders from which views are gathered on future infrastructure needs and solutions.