National Infrastructure Assessment

Addressing the greatest infrastructure challenge of them all

Infrastructure

Today the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has published its assessment of the nation’s infrastructure needs. The National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) is a forward looking assessment to 2050 and has been prepared and launched with city region leaders from across the country.

The scope of the NIA is wide ranging and the potential implications for planning cities, serving homes and businesses are significant. Among its seven priorities, where current policies and programmes are assessed to be “inadequate”, the NIA counts:

  1. Building a digital society
  2. Connected, liveable city regions: linking homes and jobs
  3. New homes and communities: supporting delivery of new homes
  4. Low cost, low carbon: ending emissions from power, heat and waste
  5. Revolutionising road transport: seizing the opportunities of electric and autonomous vehicles
  6. Reducing the risks of extreme weather; making sure the UK can stand up to drought and flooding
  7. Financing infrastructure in efficient ways: getting the right balance between public and private sectors

In this initial comment, our sole focus is upon the significant weight attributed by the Commission to housing and the smart, integrated planning of housing, employment and infrastructure investment.

Infrastructure to support housing

Supporting the delivery of much needed new homes emerges from the NIA as a top priority. Indeed it is referred to as the “greatest infrastructure challenge of all” in the foreword. Lord Adonis also states in the foreword that “a significant increase in homebuilding is a key imperative”.

The Commission has found that infrastructure to unlock new housing is too often not adequately funded, timed or delivered. As such, infrastructure is a potential barrier to delivery and a cause of delay in the provision of new homes.

The NIA establishes the important relationship between homes and places of employment, recognising that for many people the ability to access existing and potential employment is the main decision factor in where they live. The Commission identifies the potential to densify development around transport hubs as an efficient and effective means of connecting people with jobs.

In recognising the important live-work linkages that influence location choices (and therefore the need for new homes) the Commission also examines the barriers that prevent co-location of uses and efficient patterns of land use emerging.

The green belt is identified as one such potential barrier and the Commission asserts that some development in the green belt could be optimally located:

“In exceptional cases […] co-location could warrant some degree of development around existing infrastructure hubs in the green belt, where this allows for housing in an optimum infrastructure location and is not inconsistent with the planning purposes of the green belt.”

The Commission highlight that such an approach to “optimum” locations within the green belt could reduce the environmental impact and footprint of development “..for example by avoiding the need for new settlements or infrastructure to be built on the other side of the green belt”.

The Commission’s work highlights the need to think afresh about the suitability and sustainability of different locations for development, including those which have long been effectively barred from consideration through the operation of long standing policy designations.

More than a “one size fits all” approach

It is refreshing to see the Commission make the links between the economy, labour markets and housing. Demand for homes and for infrastructure is shown to have a tangible relationship with the economy of places.

This is thinking which is notably absent from the Government’s recent consultation on a standard methodology for calculating housing need. DCLG omits the economy from its approach to calculating local housing needs. Publication of the NIA provides an opportunity for the Government to reflect on the more holistic and integrative approach to land use and infrastructure planning that the Commission adopts, and ensure that this is supported by its’ own approach to standardising housing needs.

Making it happen

The Commission identifies the need for better co-ordination overall between infrastructure delivery agencies, local planners and housing developers to co-ordinate investment plans. The new generation of Metro Mayors and devolution deals are identified as important in joining up city-regional spatial planning.

The Commission is also calling for the establishment of a national design panel for infrastructure to help problem solve and create state-of-the-art new settlements, large urban extensions and housing opportunity areas.

Housing challenges need “speedy resolution” and it is clear from the NIA consultation document that they will be a key issue for the Commission through its ongoing work in 2018.

Next steps – have your say

The NIA is a far ranging document with implications for the evolution of urban freight networks, long distance logistics, city planning, sustainability, viability and housing. Turley is well placed to advise on all of these matters with its leading multi service offer.

Consultation responses are invited by 12 January 2018. If you would like Turley to provide evidence or to support your response to the Commission, please speak to Richard Laming on 0161 233 7640 or email.