There is little argument that investing in infrastructure is absolutely critical to the long-term economic strength of the UK.
Indeed, retreating from such critical projects as Crossrail 2 and HS3 would seriously jeopardise the UK’s global competitiveness in the second half of the 21st century.
It is in this context that the announcement of the formation of a National Infrastructure Commission by the Government has to be welcomed.
The appointment of former Labour minister Lord Adonis, and the fact that this was a pre-election Labour policy, gives reasonable hope that future infrastructure decisions will be significantly de-politicised, making their delivery much more likely.
An area that must be at the top of the new Commission’s agenda is housebuilding. We are currently in the midst of a major housing shortage and while the previous coalition and current Conservative Government have introduced a myriad of fiscal measures to help people onto the property ladder, very little has been done to tackle the acute shortage in stock.
Lord Adonis is on record as stating that dozens of towns and cities in the south – where the demand is greatest – will have to significantly expand and key to this is a re-examination of UK Green Belt policy which is now out-dated and has stifled house-building for decades.
As our 50 Shades of Green report stated, much of the existing Green Belt is non-descript farmland, paddocks and golf courses and is not environmentally or ecologically sensitive. Itcould be put to better use, particularly in areas close to transport nodes, by using it for sustainable housing development.
This has to go hand in hand with proper city region planning so that areas around London and other major cities are developed in a joined up way and while this would fly in the face of the Government’s previously stated localism agenda, now is the time for a new direction.
As laudable as the concept of devolving power from the centre is in theory, the reality is that in many regards localism just hasn’t delivered as, unsurprisingly, local decision makers have, more often than not, taken the micro view that suits them rather than the macro view that suits the wider country.
The consequence of this is that delivering major infrastructure will become increasingly challenging as local communities continue to dig their heels in and make it somebody else’s problem.
We just have to hope now that this is a Commission that is here to stay and hope that it gives birth to a new political slogan “let’s get building”.