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Report calls for public voice in infrastructure planning

Words: Laura Edgar
Heathrow Airport

“The current infrastructure planning system is failing”. That is the conclusion of a recent think tank report.

In Opening up infrastructure planning (pdf), the Green Alliance explains that the public feels shut out of infrastructure planning, resulting in protests and delays. The organisation cites fracking, High Speed 2 and the proposed third runway at Heathrow as examples.

Therefore, it is calling for a ‘Citizen Voice’ body to be established to guarantee that the public has a say in the biggest infrastructure decisions, reducing “the likelihood that the best projects are delayed by public protest”.

Currently, says the report, the public can only have a say about national infrastructure during the consultation period for National Policy Statements. “But quietly asking people to comment on pages of dry, wordy documents barely counts as engagement,” it says.

However, only one in 9,300 people commented on the consultation that attracted the most attention.

In response, the Green Alliance has set out three ways to make sure the public is better engaged in infrastructure planning:

  1. A national strategic plan, supported by a new civil society advisory council, should be created.

  2. Spatial planning should be carried out at city and county level. These would, says the Green Alliance, be informed and tested by local public dialogues.

  3. Establish Citizen Voice, an independent body to support the civil society advisory council and help cities and counties to run local infrastructure dialogues.

Matthew Spencer, Green Alliance director, said: “We can’t tackle the environmental and economic challenges of the UK without new infrastructure, but the current system of planning is broken. Protest will continue to be the biggest barrier to new energy and transport projects unless the public are given a meaningful say in what the local and national infrastructure needs are. We’re proposing a new body, Citizen Voice, to make that happen, and work with the grain of devolution.”

John Pettigrew, UK executive director at National Grid, added: “It is vital that we build public support for infrastructure projects by articulating the benefits at both a national and regional level. In this report, Green Alliance presents a valuable set of ideas to help develop thinking about how government and industry can better engage with the public."