The new National Infrastructure Commission will be led by Labour peer Lord Andrew Adonis, Osborne said at the Conservative Party Conference today (5 October).

The Chancellor also announced an additional £5bn of funding for national infrastructure projects, paid for through spending cuts and the sale of buildings and assets the Government no longer needs.

Osborne said further investment in infrastructure would come from half a dozen new wealth funds, created by amalgamating around 89 local government pension schemes. The chancellor said Britain was “pretty rubbish” at making large infrastructure decisions and it would be a “disaster” to stop building.

Osborne said early priorities for the Commission would include the development of HS3 “across the Northern Powerhouse”, and “making sure Britain has the energy supply it needs”. However, he failed to elaborate on the Conservative plans for a greener energy network, as some green groups had predicted he would.

Leading the way

Lord Adonis – the former Transport Secretary and Schools Minister – is giving up his position as a Labour Party Whip and will become a cross-bench peer in order to lead the new Commission.

Lord Adonis said in a statement: “Without big improvements to its transport and energy systems, Britain will grind to a halt. I am pleased to accept the Chancellor’s invitation to establish the National Infrastructure Commission as an independent body able to advise Government and Parliament on priorities.

“Major infrastructure projects like Crossrail and building major new power stations span Governments and Parliaments. I hope it will be possible to forge a wide measure of agreement, across society and politics, on key infrastructure requirements for the next 20 to 30 years and the assessments which have underpinned them.”

In old position as transport secretary, Adonis was a vocal supporter of electric vehicles and the “low-carbon agenda“.

‘Bold move’

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, welcomed the new Commission. He said: “Industry has been calling on government to ensure we have some way of planning for our future infrastructure needs and challenges, and today’s announcement is a positive step in that direction.

“The Commission will ultimately be judged not on the number of infrastructure projects it recommends. It will be judged on how far it engages with the public and Parliament to ensure wider public support for critical investments and, ultimately, whether or not Government acts on decisions such as the recent Airports Commission recommendation to expand Heathrow airport.

“It is also essential the Commission delivers on iconic national projects such as HS2 that contain a substantial amount of British built and sourced content.”

That sentiment has been echoed by the director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Nick Baveystock, who added: “This is a bold and positive move by Government. Infrastructure must be planned for the long term and the pressing need for an independent body, as a mechanism to build political consensus, has been recognised.”

White elephant

Green groups will also welcome today’s announcement. A recent poll of 646 members of the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) found that two thirds wanted national infrastructure needs prioritised over local environment issues. Three quarters of respondents also said the current planning system was failing to aid the transition to a sustainably economy.

Matthew Spencer, director of Green Alliance, said: “The Chancellor’s infrastructure commission is welcome, but it will only be successful if it avoids the ‘white elephant’ risk. This is where experts advise what’s in the national interest but the public has a very different view, leaving ministers lumbered with expensive and unpopular projects.

“The commission could be successful but only if works within carbon budgets, takes the demand side seriously and builds in meaningful public engagement right from the start.”

Brad Allen

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