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Mon June 21 2021

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Armitt recommends politicians lose planning role

5 Sep 13 The Labour Party has been advised to set up a new quango to take over responsibility for planning major infrastructure projects

Sir John Armitt
Sir John Armitt

A review of infrastructure planning led by Sir John Armitt for the Labour Party has recommended that planning major transport projects should be taken out of the democratic process.

Under Armitt’s vision, an independent national infrastructure commission would produce a 30-year plan every 10 years, to take politics out of long-term planning.

Sir John Armitt is a civil engineer who in his career has been head of a major contractor, Costain, and a major client, Network Rail. More recently he he chaired the Olympic Delivery Authority.

He said: "Over the last 40 years UK infrastructure has fallen behind the rest of the world and is increasingly struggling to cope with the demands we make of it. An infrastructure fit for the future must now be a national priority alongside education and health, and a new independent National Infrastructure Commission is a way of delivering this improvement with the vital support of the public and politicians of all parties.”

The key recommendations are:

  • A new independent National Infrastructure Commission to look 25-30 years ahead at the evidence for the UK’s future needs across all significant national infrastructure and set clear priorities, for example, nationwide flood prevention or energy supply.
  • This National Infrastructure Assessment would be carried out every 10 years and include consultation with the public, local government, NGOs, regulators and other interested groups or individuals.
  • A parliamentary vote on the infrastructure priorities would take place within six months of publication to avoid delays.
  • Within 12 months of this vote government departments would have to form detailed 10-year sector plans of how they will deliver and fund work towards these priorities.
  • Parliament would then vote on these 10-year plans and the permanent National Infrastructure Commission would scrutinise the ability of these plans to meet the 25-30 year national priorities and report to parliament annually on their delivery.

The CBI liked the idea. “An independent Commission would ensure that politicians could no longer duck the difficult infrastructure questions which our long-term economic prosperity depends on,” said CBI chief policy director Katja Hall. “This report is a thoughtful contribution to the debate about the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs and should be considered by all political parties.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) was less sure, taking the view that making difficult long-term decisions is the exact reason why we elect politicians in the first place and they are not paid to pass the buck to unelected bodies.

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CPRE senior transport campaigner Ralph Smyth said: “In a small, crowded and democratic country it is vital that major decisions are taken following meaningful public engagement, including proper consideration of alternatives. Any attempt to impose big schemes will result in a backlash, making it far harder to get the right decisions make.”

He added: “We should not forget the lessons of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, an unelected body that had to be disbanded shortly after it was set up.”

However, Richard Bowker, senior advisor at EC Harris and former chairman and chief executive of the Strategic Rail Authority, said that Sir John Armitt was proposing something rather different to the IPC.

Mr Bowker said: “The Armitt Review proposes a commission that has statutory independence and whose proposals must be considered and voted upon by Parliament rather than passed to a department of government.  The proposed review and monitoring role also has statutory force.  This would make the proposed commission much harder for future governments to ‘ignore’ than the various bodies that exist at present.

“In any event, the IPC's remit is different. It was established by the 2008 Planning Act to examine and sometimes make decisions on planning decisions for nationally significant infrastructure projects. It is, therefore, reacting to applications rather than setting a strategic agenda as is proposed by Sir John for the new Infrastructure Commission.”

Sir John Armitt's full report can be found at the Labour Party's website.

Armitt's team

Sir John Armitt had an advisory panel working with him on his report for the Labour Party, none of whom has been elected to political office. Members were:

  • Lord Adonis, Labour’s former transport secretary
  • Alan Buckle, deputy chairman of KPMG
  • Chris Elliott, chairman of Barclays Infrastructure Funds Management
  • Dr Paul Golby, chairman of Engineering UK
  • Rachel Lomax , former deputy governor of the Bank of England and former permanent secretary at the Department for Transport
  • Sir David Rowlands, chairman of Gatwick Airport, Angel Trains Group and Semperian PPP Investment Partners; and another former permanent secretary to the Department for Transport.

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