Once he has assembled his team of commissioners, his first priorities are rail and energy. However, he is not being asked to consider HS2 or airport runway expansion as these projects are considered to be sufficiently well advanced as to require no further opinions.
Chancellor George Osborne announced the creation of the independent commission in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference yesterday. It was a double surprise: firstly, that it represents the adoption of a key Labour Party policy that the Conservatives had previously shown no interest in; and secondly that former Labour transport secretary and policy wonk Andrew Adonis had agreed to chair it, resigning the Labour whip in the House of Lords and sitting as a cross-bencher “to underpin its independent status,” Lord Adonis said
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is created immediately and will later be put into statute. The government defines it as an independent body that enables long term strategic decision making to build effective and efficient infrastructure for the UK. It reports to the Treasury.
The NIC’s role is to deliver a long-term plan and assessment of national infrastructure needs early in each parliament, setting out what a government is expected to do over the next five years. It will be overseen by a small board, appointed by the chancellor, and able to commission research and call for evidence from public sector bodies and private sector experts.
The Treasury said that NIC’s initial focus will be on three priorities:
- transforming the connectivity of the Northern cities, including high speed rail (HS3)
- setting priorities for future large-scale investment in London’s public transport infrastructure
- how to ensure investment in energy infrastructure can meet future demand in the most efficient way.
The NIC will publish advice to the government on these issues before next year’s budget. It will also begin work on a national infrastructure assessment, looking ahead to requirements for the next 30 years.
The Treasury said that the commission’s remit is only to consider future infrastructure of national significance. "It will not re-examine existing government infrastructure commitments, and it will not re-open regulatory price controls. Neither will it look at Heathrow and airports in the South East or re-examine the work of the Airports Commission," it said.
It added: " The NIC will seek to promote knowledge of and debate on international best practice in the planning, financing and delivery of major infrastructure."
Lord Adonis said: “Without big improvements to its transport and energy systems, Britain will grind to a halt. I look forward to establishing the National Infrastructure Commission as an independent body able to advise government and Parliament on priorities. Major infrastructure projects like Crossrail and major new power stations span governments and parliaments. I hope it will be possible to forge a wide measure of agreement, across society and politics, on key infrastructure requirements for the next 20 to 30 years and the assessments which have underpinned them.”