Government ‘needs better infrastructure decision-making processes’

16 Dec 14

Reforms to how the government develops infrastructure projects are needed to ensure existing plans to improve key economic links can be implemented, the Institute for Government has said.

Examining the current planning system, an IfG report with the Economic and Social Research Council said the approvals regime needed to be improved so the coalition’s National Infrastructure Plan could be implemented.

Better engagement with local communities, interest groups, experts and politicians were needed to speed up delivery, and the report recommended the creation of a new forum to discuss policy options and consequences across a range of sectors.

Significant challenges lie ahead for road and rail upgrades, including High Speed 2, as well as the development of fracking schemes, report co-author and IfG fellow Miguel Coelho said.

‘Energy security, environmental regulation, replacement of existing infrastructure, and increasing population, are only a few examples from a wide range of pressures that will impact on UK infrastructure over the next couple of decades,’ he said.

‘Successfully addressing these challenges will require large-scale investment and significant shake up of the way things are currently done. These findings should serve as a warning to government that poor policy-making processes could lock the economy into inadequate infrastructure systems for many years to come, placing a heavy burden on future prosperity.’

The Political Economy of Infrastructure report stated that, although the UK relies on the private sector more than most comparable countries, the government has a pivotal role in terms of policy and regulation.

There were lessons from other countries that could be used to improve how infrastructure decisions were made, it concluded.

In France, a commission for public debate – the Commission Nationale du Débat Public National Public (CNDP) – is tasked with ensuring there is effective participation in decisions that have major impact on the environment or land planning.

The CNDP is not responsible for making decisions on individual projects, but is a stage of the decision-making process where projects can be examined.

In Australia, the arm’s-length Productivity Commission acts as the government’s principal advisory body on microeconomic policy and regulation. Its role is to provide independent, evidence-based advice and information to on projects through both public inquiries at the request of the Australian government and its own research.

The commission is active in identifying those potentially interested in its inquiries, and all individuals and organisations with an interest can participate.

Final reports are presented to Parliament, but it is up to governments to respond to the commission’s findings and recommendations, which are advisory.

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