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Osborne unveils National Infrastructure Commission initiative

Published: Thursday, 8th October 2015

Chancellor George Osborne has said the Government plans to set up an independent statutory National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The NIC is an initiative originally proposed by the Labour Party and part of their 2015 manifesto.

The commission’s first chairman will be Lord Adonis, formerly a Labour transport minister. He will become a so-called crossbencher, an independent peer.

These developments were highlighted in Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Osborne also revealed that the existing 89 local authority pension funds will be pooled into half a dozen British Wealth Funds, each with assets of over £25bn. These new funds will develop the expertise to invest in infrastructure.

The Chancellor also committed the Government to bring forward sales of land, buildings and other assets which will raise up to £5bn by 2020. The proceeds will be recycled to help fund new infrastructure projects.

In addition Osborne confirmed that the Government will legislate to provide automatic planning permission in principle on all brownfield sites identified on yet to be established “brownfield registers”.

The NIC, which will have between 25 and 30 permanent staff, will be created immediately on an interim basis, and will later be put into statute. It will deliver a long-term plan and assessment of national infrastructure needs early in each parliament, setting out what a government is expected to do over the next five years.

It will be overseen by a small board, appointed by the Chancellor. It will have statutory powers to allow it to draw on the expertise of the sectoral regulators, and key national delivery bodies such as Network Rail and Highways England.

The NIC will start work immediately on:

  • A plan to transform the connectivity of the Northern cities, including high speed rail (HS3)
  • Priorities for future large-scale investment in London’s public transport infrastructure
  • How to ensure investment in energy infrastructure can meet future demand in the most efficient way.

The Commission will publish advice to the Government on these issues before next year’s Budget. It will also begin work on a national infrastructure assessment, looking ahead to requirements for the next 30 years.

Ministers have stressed that the Commission’s remit will be to consider future infrastructure of national significance. It will not re-examine existing government infrastructure commitments, and it will not re-open regulatory price controls. Neither will it look at Heathrow and airports in the South East or re-examine the work of the Airports Commission.

Infrastructure planning guru Angus Walker, a partner with law firm BDB, said: “this will be the biggest change to the Planning Act 2008 regime since it was first enacted nearly seven years ago. The ‘front end’ of setting out what infrastructure is needed and how it is to be funded will get a complete overhaul.

“Applications will not be entirely unscathed, because they will of course have to fit in with what the strategy says, rather than existing government policy and National Policy Statements.”

He added: “When the Planning Act 2008 was passed, the Government set out need in National Policy Statements and an independent body then decided applications.

“When this change is made it will be the other way round: an independent body will set out need in the equivalent of National Policy Statements and it is the Government that now decides applications.”

View the news story on GOV.UK

Independent Armitt Review of Infrastructure

Roger Milne