Blog: 6 March 2020Who nicked our NIS? In expectation of the National Infra Strategy...

Ben Lewis

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Ben Lewis

Infrastructure & Energy Director

Cardiff office

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Boris played his hand early on big infrastructure with a pitch to launch a ‘revolution’ and committing £100bn – so it’s ironic that the National Infrastructure Strategy is now delayed and late...

The former London Mayor known for his love of the ‘grands projets’ was signalling a spendathon to power up Britain and yield a Brexit bounce.  Now, with expectations raised, attention has turned to what will actually be in the strategy (and we shall have to wait and see...)

Recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and already some time in the baking, we are looking forward to seeing the Government’s response.  What will we get?

Despite the climate emergency and our exit from the EU, my sources have suggested not very much (maybe that’s why it’s now been delayed).  In terms of content, commitment and coordination, I don’t think that the strategy is going to solve what’s really important which, for me, is de-coupling strategic infrastructure planning and delivery from short-term political cycles.

And herein lies the problem.  We’re trying to meet Net Zero by 2050.  We’re trying to increase productivity.  We’re trying to decarbonise our economy.  We’re trying to address the housing crisis.  And we’re trying to sustain and improve quality of life and choice while we radically overhaul long-established processes and behaviours.  That’s a big ask!

Se we need a strategy which recognises and addresses these ambitions while also being deliverable.  The only way we’ll set ourselves up for success is if we focus ruthlessly on coordination and oversight.

So for National Infrastructure Strategy or ‘NIS’ read ‘Not In Silos’.  Government simply must stop working vertically and departmentally and start working laterally.  The strategy must be cross-cutting.

Let me give you an example of the problem.  Within the last few days, Government has re-started the onshore wind sector through financial incentives (ie the CfD mechanism) and this has been widely welcomed.  Lazarus-like, onshore wind is back in business to help us transition to a more renewable-based energy mix.  Great news for Wales and Scotland, but actually getting planning consent in England is virtually impossible thanks to footnote 49 of the current NPPF.  BEIS and MHCLG, and whoever else is involved, need to get on the same page!

And what do I mean by oversight?  I’m talking about giving the NIC, or potentially another body, some teeth to actually hold the government to account.  Right now the NIC is advisory – the way the Treasury wanted it – but I don’t think that’s going to help us move at the pace we need to.  If we’re serious about Net Zero and about infrastructure to support productivity and trade in post-Brexit Britain, we need political commitments and pledges properly scrutinised and meaningfully measured.

You say that’s naive?  We live in challenging times.  We need to break the orthodoxy and do something different.

The easy wins in energy generation have gone.  We have already largely decarbonised generation by phasing out coal and ramping up renewables.  Now we have to tackle transport and domestic heating.  Do we go all-electric or do we need an electric / hydrogen hybrid solution?  Only through cross-sector strategic planning and coordinated delivery will we get to net zero by 2050. 

Let’s see then.  I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.  Let’s hope for a National Infrastructure Strategy that everyone can get behind, not least us in the planning profession.

‘Not In Silos’ please Boris.  That would be a massive start and make one hell of a difference!

Posted with the following keywords:
National Infrastructure Strategy, Strategic Planning, Net Zero 2050