Government publishes National Infrastructure Strategy
The National Infrastructure Strategy, subtitled ‘Fairer, faster, greener’, was published on 25 November 2020 after being delayed since Spring this year due to various reasons such as Brexit and COVID-19. It sets out the Government’s plans to transform the UK’s infrastructure networks in order to aid economic recovery, strengthen the Union and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
The main aspects are as follows:
- Driving recovery and rebuilding the economy: COVID-19 has posed a challenge to individuals and businesses alike. The Government says it understands that infrastructure investment will have a key role to play in the economic recovery of the UK and has pledged to invest £27 billion in 2021-2022 in the hope of ending the “stop-start” pattern of public investment that has been adopted in the past. Private infrastructure investment will also be an important factor in the recovery, alongside the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution.
- Levelling up and strengthening the Union: the Government plans to “leave no community or business behind” by prioritising those areas that have received less support in the past, particularly creating regional powerhouses and focussing on areas outside of London. This will include backing HS2 to connect communities together as well as investing in a UK-wide gigabit broadband roll-out and extending 4G mobile coverage.
- Decarbonising the economy and adapting to climate change: in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the Government is proposing to accelerate the electrification of vehicles, advance newer technologies such as carbon capture and low-carbon hydrogen, invest in offshore wind, plant 30,000 hectares of tree a year and provide up to £525 million worth of investment in nuclear technologies.
- Supporting private investment: the Government proposes to set up a UK infrastructure bank that could co-invest to support the private sector in infrastructure projects.
- Accelerating and improving delivery: The Government wants to deliver infrastructure projects better, greener and faster. This includes retaining the Development Consent Order (DCO) regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), but the Government is establishing a National Infrastructure Planning Reform Programme to refresh how the regime operates, making it more effective and provide better outcomes at a faster rate with greater certainty.
Despite there not being a huge amount of new content, the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy is welcome. It is clearly vital to the planning and delivery of large and important infrastructure to have a UK strategy.
The Government’s proposal to set up an infrastructure bank to co-invest to support private investment is an interesting idea and an increase in private funding and ownership in the future seems inevitable. Over time that is likely to lead to greater privatisation of the UK’s infrastructure, with the costs ultimately passed on to users.
The previously published Planning White Paper is touched upon in the Strategy and the references to it in an infrastructure context indicate the Government remains committed to the broad direction set out in it. That was a potential question mark with the departure of Dominic Cummings as Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister. The indications are that there are other senior people in the Government who continue to support the broad direction of the White Paper and its underlying philosophy following his departure.
The review of the DCO regime for NSIPs is necessary, in our view, particularly the examination process, which is repetitious, inefficient and potentially of doubtful effectiveness. A review of the pre‑application process is worthwhile in order to enable applications to be prepared and submitted quicker.
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