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Sun June 20 2021

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Government puts infrastructure planning reform on its order of business

19 May 16 The government has announced plans to strengthen the footing of its new National Infrastructure Commission and further adjustments to the planning system.

The Queen’s Speech to Parliament yesterday outlined the government’s legislative programme for the year ahead. It included a measure to establish the National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis.

The move will be contained within the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, which will also seek to speed up the planning process by minimising delays caused by pre-commencement planning conditions.

Government intends that the legislation will also strengthen neighbourhood planning by adding transparency to the local government duty to support local groups and by improving the process for reviewing and updating plans.

The compulsory purchase order process is also to be made “clearer, fairer and faster for all those involved”.

Other clauses in the bill pave the way for the privatisation of Land Registry.

The National Infrastructure Commission was established by chancellor George Osborne last year to provide the Treasury with advice on national priorities, independent of party politics. The plan was always to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to enshrine its role.

The legislation will also impose a duty on the government to issue a remit letter to the commission once in every Parliament. The remit letter will be a public document.

The government held a 10 week consultation on the governance, structure and operation of the commission earlier this year. The vast majority of responses were highly supportive of the creation of the commission, particularly the aim of improving long-term infrastructure planning.

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Lord Adonis, who left the Labour benches to become chair of the commissions, said: “This is a major advance for infrastructure planning in Britain and will give the commission the power it needs to do its work.”

Civil engineers also have a lot of faith in the new advisory panel. Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) president Sir John Armitt is a member of the National Infrastructure Commission and was the original architect of the policy, initially coming up with the proposal for the Labour party. He said: “Setting the commission on a statutory footing formalises and upholds its role and purpose, this is an important milestone.”

Civil engineering contractors also expect great things. Marie-Claude Hemming, head of external affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), said: “CECA has long argued that the infrastructure needs of the UK should be prioritised ahead of party politics. Lack of political consensus has delayed projects in the past, and has been costly for the taxpayer.

“The government’s decision to establish the National Infrastructure Commission as a non-departmental public body, independent from government, will ensure that body is able to assess the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs, identify the best way to respond, and then deliver projects that are on time and on budget.

“Placing the National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory footing … will enable that body to base policy on its world-class expertise rather than short-term political considerations, as industry takes up the challenge of building, maintaining and upgrading the UK’s infrastructure in the coming years.”

The National Infrastructure Commission is currently looking at how infrastructure might best be improved in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor and how the UK might develop 5G communications infrastructure.

Sir John Armitt said: “The mood in the commission is very positive as we work towards developing proposals on the deployment of 5G and the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor. Critical work to identify the UK’s longer term infrastructure needs is also progressing, and the independent ICE led ‘national needs assessment’ – which will be provided to the commission in the autumn to support its own needs analysis – is currently being produced following a period of extensive evidence gathering across the UK.”

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