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04/12/2015

Government must accelerate infrastructure delivery

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Bridge beng built

Business lacks confidence in the government's ability to deliver the infrastructure that underpins economic growth, says Tom Venables. What can we do about it?

Tom VenablesGiven the strong correlation between infrastructure investment and economic growth, it is unsurprising that when infrastructure decisions are deferred it is business that feels the pain. The overriding message from business in last month’s CBI/AECOM Infrastructure Survey (PDF) was clear – government must accelerate infrastructure delivery during this Parliament.

Sixty-two per cent of respondents are concerned about the pace of infrastructure progress, and half don’t expect to see improvements in the next five years. Despite the country’s strong pipeline of projects, the findings show business lacks confidence in the UK’s ability to deliver. Perceptions of the planning system could be part of the problem. While there is business support for planning reforms such as the National Planning Policy Framework, most firms are concerned about the link between local planning decisions and national priorities.

"Turning momentum into delivery is what business needs"

Given the key role local planning departments play in ensuring that growth-stimulating projects go ahead, business is rightly concerned that public sector budget pressures will lead to more resource constraints and delays – 70 per cent of businesses are prepared to consider paying more in planning fees if it leads to quicker decisions.

Local planning decisions that support the country’s infrastructure ambitions will require more strategic planning. Importantly, the inextricable link between housing development and infrastructure investment must be better recognised. This connection is often lost, particularly on big developments that cross local authority boundaries. Yet housing built in line with infrastructure investment and development is crucial to boosting the economy. And large-scale housing developments built where no infrastructure funding has been planned directly limits economic growth. Surely it is a missed opportunity that large-scale housing is omitted from the remit of the newly formed National Infrastructure Commission?

And current approaches for delivering growth, such as the local plan system and Community Infrastructure Levy, can limit the ability to take a strategic planning approach. Devolution will bring opportunities for better collaboration, with the public and private sector working in partnerships that go beyond a ‘duty to cooperate’. Indeed, business is broadly in agreement, with 61 per cent of firms in the CBI/AECOM survey seeing greater devolution as a chance to improve local infrastructure. After all, turning momentum into delivery is what business needs.

Tom Venables is director of design, planning and economics at AECOM

PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

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