Armitt review says infrastructure projects too important for politics

Posted on 5 Sep 2013 by Tim Brown

The long-term challenges for the UK’s infrastructure are too serious to be left to short term politics and should be the responsibility of a new independent National Infrastructure Commission, according to a review by Sir John Armitt of the country's utilities and transport infrastructure .

The former head of the Olympics Delivery Authority, who was commissioned to do the review by the Labour party, said the UK is currently “struggling” to construct necessary major infrastructure necessary projects which “is leading to congested roads and airports, the threat of energy brownouts and water shortages.”

The key recommendation from the review is for the development of an independent body responsible for infrastructure decisions. It would operate in a similar manner to the Office of Budget Responsibility and would remove delays in building decisions which are often blamed on a lack of commitment from politicians for projects that are longer than the electoral cycle.

The new commission would review the UK’s infrastructure each decade, with Parliament required to to put the key recommendations to vote within six months. Once projects were approved, Government departments would have a year to draw up comprehensive plans on how schemes would be delivered.

“Over the last 40 years UK infrastructure has fallen behind the rest of the world.” said Sir John. “London 2012 proved we are capable of planning and delivering complex and innovative infrastructure projects with local and national cross-party support.”

Steve Radley, Director of Policy, EEF
Steve Radley, Director of Policy, EEF

Commenting on the Armitt Review published today, Steve Radley, Director of Policy of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said the report demonstrated the UK needs a new approach to infrastructure.

“We need to take the political wrangling out of important infrastructure decisions, take a long term view of strategic priorities and get the key projects delivered faster

“For too long, political prevarication and policy reversals have left Britain in the slow lane in developing our roads, rail networks and our airports. The poor evidence base and fraying political consensus for HS2, and the fudging of key decisions on increasing our airport capacity show that things need to change.

“A National Infrastructure Commission can address this but it must have cross-party backing and report to Parliament. Only then will we get away from the delays and indecision that have dogged us for decades.”

EEF called for an Independent Infrastructure Commission to be set up in its submission to the Armitt Review and on the back of a major report in April this year entitled ‘Transport for Growth’. Amongst the key findings of that report included:

· Four-fifths of manufacturers identify the road network as critical to their business.
· Half of manufacturers say that the state of the UK’s roads significantly increases their operating costs.
· Three-quarters of export-intensive manufacturers identify aviation infrastructure as important to identifying new business opportunities.
· Half of foreign-owned manufacturing businesses say aviation is a key factor in deciding where to invest.
· Two-thirds of export-intensive manufacturers identify investment in road access to international gateways, such as ports, as critical to their growth.
· A third of the most export-intensive firms say the state of the UK’s port infrastructure has significantly increased their operating costs.

Katja Hall, CBI Chief Policy Director, said that the World Economic Forum downgrade of UK infrastructure competitiveness “sends a clear message that we need to rise above the parliamentary cycle to take some important strategic decisions to plan for the next 30 years.

“An independent Commission would ensure that politicians could no longer duck the difficult infrastructure questions which our long-term economic prosperity depends on. But we do need to make sure that if an independent Commission were to be introduced it wouldn’t cut across decisions already underway, like the Davies review of aviation.”

The review follows another report on the construction industry which showed that manufacturers need to become more familiar with the use of Building Information Modelling, a methodology designed to reduce waste and improve health and safety.

report by construction industry marketing consultancy Competitive Advantage shows that at present BIM is used for 3.9% of all construction projects representing £3.8 billion. But by 2016 its penetration will have increased to 50.8% of projects worth £55.1 billion.