Delivering Infrastructure

Keith Mitchell, Chairman of Peter Brett Associates, has been thinking seriously about how we can make progress on regeneration and growth. He has set out

Here is the fourth of the series of articles.

So far, we have examined the tension between the planning, localism and economic growth agenda’s, and concluded that early engagement is going to be fundamental to a new approach. How do we ensure that infrastructure delivery keeps up with the need for sustainable economic growth?

Whatever the planning system in place is, there are still the very real issues of how to balance the cost of infrastructure, increasing standards of design, and new regulation and commercial models for energy, water, waste, and transport provision against the need to prove viability and deliverability, and to retain as much flexibility as possible. This is before you feed in the complexities and costs of developing degraded urban sites within challenging local communities.

However, if we are to accelerate delivery of sustainable development, we need to think hard about how we make decisions about infrastructure priorities, and make best use of scare resources. For example, infrastructure requirements are often driven from a worst case analysis of demand or impact. Whilst this is understandable in terms of preparing a compliant assessment, it doesn’t seem to make any sense in terms of an implementation plan for development, as it reinforces demand hungry behaviour and increases the use of resources.

Surely we should be planning to deliver infrastructure which focusses on raising quality of life for local people, and reinforces sustainable outcomes, (eg low energy or water demand, high pedestrian or cycle mode share, etc)? This will allow new development to be resource efficient, to live within reduced infrastructure means, and support viability through lower costs and better long term value.

We also need to be alive to the different ways to deliver infrastructure. The publication of the National Infrastructure Plan suggests that the importance of infrastructure delivery is understood, and that new models of delivery need to be found. With a little imagination, the involvement of developers, providers and communities in energy, waste, water and transport projects can transform the upfront investment requirements. However, these delivery mechanisms often need to be bespoke, and require a long term involvement to manage change and secure the revenues that can offset up front costs.

The need to speed up delivery is not disputed, and the introduction through the NPPF of a requirement to demonstrate that Local Plans are deliverable is an indication of the frustration about a planning system that under achieves. It can only be hoped that the requirement to demonstrate viability of a plan will create a more realistic balance between the cost of infrastructure and the viability of development, rather than simply an additional burden on authorities and a commoditised approach to ticking the viability box.

We might also hope that the Community Infrastructure Levy is a potential route to simplifying infrastructure delivery, and reducing the recently heavy burden of S106. However, it emerges that there is no connection between the Section 123 CIL list and whether or not crucial infrastructure will be delivered at a time to suit a swift implementation of development. This has potentially serious implications, and could lead to a serious disconnect between infrastructure delivery, funding and development phasing, which in turn could lead to significant delay. Early engagement between public and private sector will be essential to avoid gridlock.

Overcoming the potential for confusion and delay, and delivering sustainable economic growth will need clear leadership, and I turn to this in my next article.
Keith Mitchell:
Chairman, Peter Brett Associates.