'What will the UK’s most important 21st Century infrastructure project be and why?'
By sheer definition the category of ‘infrastructure’ is vast and is easily divided into a number of sub-categories, ranging from energy and finance to communications and transport. Indeed, there may be further categories within these sub-categories, however the theme that emerges is that ‘infrastructure’ consists of many strands. Each strand will require and often have in place, a plan or strategy relevant to their objectives and requirements. For example, we know there is an Industrial Strategy and a soon to expire Road Investment Strategy. Enter place making, and we realise a Smart Cities Strategy is also due to be published.
Modern planning should be infrastructure led. As a nation we have planned for decades around ageing and unsuitable infrastructure and infrastructure networks. In contrast to the likes of younger countries where the availability of space is far greater and any historic environment less restrictive. In addition, we have historically combined this with a regionally and nationally fragmented approach. The abolishment of regional planning, in favour of locally-led planning may inadvertently compound this issue. Duty to cooperate in the residential planning sense has proved a difficult subject, particularly where one Council is asked to take a portion of un-met need from another. The culmination is a somewhat insular approach to planning in general.
Has any single infrastructure strategy produced, taken account of every other infrastructure strategy? This is largely rhetorical, I am not suggesting negligence, more that greater clarity and understanding is required.
I believe the NIC can identify and bring together the various government strategies into a single integrated strategy for growth. It should be shown nationally and promoted as a national document to ensure there is a main national infrastructure plan. Regional strategies could then take account of this national vision, bringing clarity and certainty, and reducing the potential for a fragmented approach, by having a starting point under which all infrastructure elements are aligned.
I further believe that we require an assessment of our current infrastructure to conclude where enhancement can be made whilst retaining sensitive elements, and where it cannot. However, via collaboration for a single integrated strategy, it may prove that each infrastructure strand can provide this detail. Involving as many backgrounds as possible in this process would enable the NIC and wider supporters to build the most complete evidence base.
If we are to consider infrastructure in its entirety and therefore nationally, I believe we are not yet ready to undertake any one project at this scale, due to the need to prepare an inclusive plan on which all future projects and strategies can be based. In answer to the question therefore, I would suggest the most important infrastructure project of the 21st Century will be one which brings the greatest amount of national benefit, combined with enabling unprecedented successful national collaboration and cohesion.
This blog formed part of my application to be included on the new National Infrastructure Commission Young Professionals Panel.
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National Infrastructure Commission, Young Professionals Panel