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Think tank calls for devolved infrastructure powers

Words: Laura Edgar

Senior university researchers are calling for devolved infrastructure powers and funding for local authorities to solve the UK’s infrastructure needs.

Researchers from the iBUILD Infrastructure Research Centre, led by Newcastle University in collaboration with the Universities of Birmingham and Leeds, warn that a lack of local knowledge, engagement and ownership is leading to the wrong infrastructure being put in the wrong place at the wrong times.

Speaking ahead of the iBUILD Are you being served? Alternative infrastructure business models to improve economic growth and well-being manifesto launch today (26 March), centre director Richard Dawson, professor of earth systems engineering at Newcastle University, emphasised the “crucial role” infrastructure plays in economic development.

He said: “Existing approaches to infrastructure are criticised for being too narrow and returning poor value. In particular, the current centralised and top-down approach to infrastructure development and management is preventing locally-led business models from flourishing and is discouraging innovation.”

He added that business models that take a more local and longer-term view of infrastructure are needed. “Local authorities and community trusts have shown they are able to take a lead in developing alternative approaches to infrastructure funding and management. However, they are currently prevented from assuming greater responsibility due to restrictions on their ability to raise and retain local revenue.”

iBUILD said research it has conducted suggests that the ability of local authorities to capture the proceeds of growth and then reinvest it in local infrastructure remains constrained.

“A more comprehensive and systemic approach is required to support local infrastructure delivery” Andy Pike

There are, it said, benefits – social and economic – to a “more flexible approach to fiscal decentralisation and broader devolution of infrastructure planning, regulation and delivery, including reducing fuel poverty, lowering carbon emissions, creating local jobs and reducing costs.”

Professor Andy Pike, the centre’s deputy director, added that national government needs to devolve greater fiscal powers on taxing and spending responsibilities to local institutions. This, he explained, would enable local institutions to deliver infrastructure that better reflects the values of communities, as well as what they need.

“This should be complemented by a stronger, statutory devolved role for cities and localities within national infrastructure planning.”

Pike went on to say that the City Deals in England and Scotland have “scratched the surface”, however, “they see central government maintain strict fiscal control over their operation and there have been highly uneven outcomes in allocations to city-regions”.

Pike maintains that although City Deals are an important development, when put in an international context, they “do not represent radical decentralisation”.