Log in | Register

Adonis to chair infrastructure body

Words: Laura Edgar
Lord Adonis / Cicero Group

Chancellor George Osborne has announced that Lord Andrew Adonis is to chair a new body planning national infrastructure projects.

The National Infrastructure Commission was unveiled at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday (5 October), with Osborne pledging an extra £5 billion in this Parliament for major schemes.

Lord Adonis was policy chief in Tony Blair’s Labour government before becoming transport secretary under Gordon Brown. He will sit as a cross-bench peer to allow him to chair the new statutory body that will advise the government on new infrastructure projects. Adonis sat on the review for Labour that set out a blueprint for infrastructure commission.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Osborne said the commission is about Britain taking “bold decisions” to provide the next generation with jobs and security, “to make sure we’ve got the railways, the roads and the runways that are going to power our economy going forward”.

“And we have not been very good at that as a country under all governments.”

Osborne said it is hard to get agreement on large infrastructure projects as just a Conservative government, or a Labour government.

“So I am trying to create a cross-party consensus and I have got an independent chair in Andrew Adonis.

“This will help us a nation come to these collective decisions.”

Initially, the commission would focus on London’s transport systems and connections between cities in the north of England.

Osborne also revealed plans to combine 89 local authority pension funds in England and Wales into six regional British Wealth Funds in an attempt to increase the amount they invest in major infrastructure projects.

Tim Pugh, partner at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner’s planning and environment practice, said: “A commitment to spend £5 billion on infrastructure during this Parliament is, of course, excellent news, but a number of major questions remain including which projects will be prioritised (and how) and whether political debate around whether to accept the Infrastructure commission's recommendations will actually defer spending that might otherwise have been made and therefore act as a brake on delivery.

Pugh said the grouping of 89 local authority pension funds is good as it would create economies of sale and potentially very large pools of resources “capable of both direct investment in income generating infrastructure and of levering investment from other sources”.

“The challenges faced by local government pension funds are well known. But if these UK local funds can secure the sort of high levels of returns from UK infrastructure assets that have attracted investors such as the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund in the past, there are potential gains all around.

Image courtesy of Cicero Group

More reaction

“The RTPI has been a firm advocate of a long-term approach to strategic infrastructure planning which recognises the multiple benefits that infrastructure brings. We supported the recommendation of the Armitt Review for an independent commission, and now welcome its establishment with Lord Adonis as chair.

“In our policy papers on Transport Infrastructure Investment and Strategic Planning we outlined several challenges which the Commission should now work to address. This includes looking at how transport infrastructure can be used to unlock housing development, incentivise cooperation between local authorities, deliver economic growth and regeneration, and support our sub-regional transport networks. The Commission should also ensure that all sectors of our national infrastructure support our carbon reduction targets and the broader transition towards a low-carbon economy, and that any new planning mechanisms are compatible with governments’ commitment to local and neighbourhood plan-making.”

James Harris, RTPI policy and networks manager

“It’s been a long time coming but the creation of a National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is a once in a generation opportunity to provide much needed momentum to the delivery of critical infrastructure investment in the UK.

“The mantra of the NIC should be bold thinking, innovative design, swift planning and efficient execution but there are also numerous fundamental issues that will need to be addressed to ensure success. These include training and skills shortages as well as access to private sector financing and funding.

“The industry must now rally round to help Lord Adonis bring together the major players in infrastructure and drive investment, while balancing the need for democratic oversight and timely challenges to a project’s feasibility, value for money and impact on society.”

Malcolm Bairstow, Ernest and Young LLP, head of infrastructure

"While today's announcement is welcome news to those tasked with delivering the UK's infrastructure, industry optimism may be tempered with caution. The infrastructure commission must have the necessary binding decision-making powers to initiate infrastructure and get Britain building. It's crucial the commission doesn't become a long-grass forum into which politically charged projects are kicked.

"Attempting to de-politicise infrastructure decision-making may help bring some of the UK's critically needed infrastructure projects to fruition. Lord Adonis's appointment is a smart move: more than just a political coup, it sends a signal that the commission will be truly cross-party. The challenge now is delivery. Ensuring the UK has the technical and organisational skills to deliver must be a priority."

Richard Robinson, chief executive, civil infrastructure - Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, AECOM

“Infrastructure is absolutely crucial to attracting the investment that is needed to regenerate the UK’s towns and cities and create growth. Today’s announcement is therefore very welcome, and we hope to see swift decisions over important projects to ensure clarity and certainty for investors.

“In order to create places where people will live as well as work, we would hope to see discussion as to whether large-scale housing schemes could be considered within significant infrastructure projects.This would enable the development industry to deliver a large number of homes, quickly.”

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation

“This is a bold and positive move by the government. The creation of this new body will change the landscape in the way that infrastructure projects are delivered in the UK as it will result in long-term planning for national strategic infrastructure projects in a way that is properly founded and considered and with much better public involvement and debate than we currently have. Infrastructure UK, the Treasury unit that deals with long-term infrastructure priorities and their funding, currently produces an annual National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) and this is the government's pipeline of planned projects, including the 40 major infrastructure projects seen as its highest priority. Although this document is very useful, it is not a "plan" looking at the UK's infrastructure needs over a 25-30 year horizon and as such the independent body is welcomed as a mechanism to build political consensus over the long-term need for infrastructure. We welcome today’s announcement and look forward to swift decision being made over such important national infrastructure projects in order to ensure certainty for everyone.”

Martha Grekos, partner and London head of planning and infrastructure consenting, Irwin Mitchell

“George Osborne’s announcement today that an unelected super-panel will be tasked with ruling on infrastructure projects shows a complete lack of faith in existing government guidance and legislation to build what is needed.

“As things stand the body is not even accountable to the public and there is a real danger that it will try to fast track projects running into conflict with existing legislation which requires effective consultation such as Aarhus Convention and EU Directives that are there to protect the public interest. 

“What we are seeing is the creation of an increased disconnect between local plans, combined authorities, devolution and accountability. Planning governance is now as clear as mud.”

Professor Alister Scott - Professor of Environment and Spatial Planning at Birmingham City who specialises in policy and decision making processes