Green Alliance calls for 'Citizen Voice' on UK infrastructure planning
Environmental think tank Green Alliance is calling for a new body to engage the UK public on proposed infrastructure and improve the current 'failing' infrastructure planning system.
In a new report - Opening up infrastructure planning - the Green Alliance claims that the public feels shut out of the current system, often resulting in protests and delay to much-needed projects. (Scroll down for full report).
It proposes that a better way of engaging the public would be to set up a new body called Citizen Voice, which would be an independent facilitator of dialogue between the civil society advisory council, cities, counties and the general public.
Grain of devolution
Green Alliance director Matthew Spencer said: “We can’t tackle the environmental and economic challenges of the UK without new infrastructure, but the current system of planning is broken. Protest will continue to be the biggest barrier to new energy and transport projects unless the public are given a meaningful say in what the local and national infrastructure needs are.
"We’re proposing a new body, Citizen Voice, to make that happen, and work with the grain of devolution.”
The UK has £466bn of infrastructure projects in the pipeline, many of which are crucial to rebalance the economy and reduce climate change and resource price risk.
The report states that under the current system the public can only influence debates on infrastructure during the consultation period for National Policy Statements. But better public engagement in infrastructure planning would lead to more informed decisions of higher quality, with improved legitimacy, especially in sectors urgently needing new infrastructure such as energy and transport.
A survey by the CBI in 2013 found that energy had overtaken transport as the prime infrastructure concern for industry, with 90% of firms surveyed worried about security of supply. However, a later poll found that the public is unconvinced by warnings that the lights will go out and doesn't therefore see a particular need to upgrade infrastructure.
But the public does expect additional infrastructure to be required to enable the UK to transition to a low-carbon energy system. And, according to the Green Alliance, if the public is excluded from the debate and public challenge is prevented, people will become further disengaged from the policy and distrustful of its motives. It also pushes opposition into less formal spaces - such as the protests and civil disobedience against fracking seen at Balcombe and other test sites.
In response to the report, CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: "We won't get the infrastructure the country needs unless local people are properly engaged in a credible planning process, and decision-makers demonstrate that they care about people, nature and beauty as much as economic growth. There are many more examples of poor engagement than of businesses and politicians getting it right - fracking, anyone? But the good news is that there is growing awareness of the need for proper public engagement. This is very welcome."
In November last year, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) made energy efficiency a priority policy following the results of a poll that revealed that senior business leaders in the UK saw the UK's infrastructure as internationally weak, lagging behind Australasia, North America and the EU.