Review of Reviews: The Armitt Review of Infrastructure

Amy Mount

Labour’s policy review considered how to tackle some of our biggest political challenges. We asked a panel of experts whether its external commissions make the grade…

What it says:

With our population set to reach 73 million by 2035 and a widening gap between demand and supply of infrastructure support, Britain faces an infrastructure crisis. The Armitt Review of Infrastructure by Sir John Armitt recommends the establishment of a new National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) with statutory independence. Each decade, the NIC would undertake evidence-based assessments of the UK’s infrastructure needs over 25–30 years, delivered through sectoral plans. The NIC would evaluate economic growth forecasts, population trends, technological changes and environmental and regulatory requirements, passing recommendations to government.

Amy Mount (Green Alliance):

“To become a low-carbon economy the UK needs to build new infrastructure – extending the electricity grid, for example, and improving public transport. In this respect, Armitt’s strategic, long-term approach is welcome. Currently, the UK doesn’t have an infrastructure plan. Instead, we have a list of projects, the so-called ‘infrastructure pipeline’.

It’s promising that the need for infrastructure planning to align with the low-carbon agenda is more prominent in the draft bill Armitt produced to follow up the review than it was originally. If infrastructure investment is about building for the future, it’s nonsensical for it to risk undermining environmental integrity.

Two key things are missing though. The proposed commission should be more open to considering demand-side approaches – needs such as mobility, warmth and clean water do not necessarily require big-ticket infrastructure. Indeed, it’s more cost-effective to insulate people’s homes than to build a new gas plant.

The review’s other weakness is public engagement, which is glossed over with a brief reference to ‘full public consultation’. If the public mandate for infrastructure is to be strengthened, this should be part of the commission’s core remit and not a bolt-on. A stakeholder council should advise the NIC as it conducts its national assessment, and cross-sectoral, deliberative dialogues with cities and counties should inform the development of sector plans, ensuring rich input from the localities that will ultimately have to host national infrastructure. If taken up, these recommendations will make the NIC more accountable and more likely to deliver the infrastructure the UK needs.”

This article originally appeared as part of a larger feature ‘Review of the Reviews’, collated by Rebecca Staddon, in the Winter edition of the Fabian Review. Look out for our other scorecards, which will be republished on the Fabian Review Online soon. 

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