The UK is to launch an arms-length government agency to oversee infrastructure planning, appointing a former transport secretary to be its inaugural chairman.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the National Infrastructure Commission would “calmly and dispassionately” look at the UK’s infrastructure needs.
He added that the body would be expected to “hold any government’s feet to the fire if it fails to deliver”, and that it would begin investigating the possibility of a third high-speed rail line in the north of England, as well as future public transport projects for London.
Andrew Adonis, the former Labour government transport secretary appointed the body’s inaugural chair, argued that infrastructure projects spanned both the lifetime of governments and parliaments.
“I hope it will be possible,” he said, “to forge a wide measure of agreement, across society and politics, on key infrastructure requirements for the next 20-30 years and the assessments that have underpinned them.”
Adonis cited the London Crossrail project as an example of one project that was under development and construction for longer than a single parliamentary term.
The incoming chairman has previously championed Crossrail II, running from the north to the south of London, currently being investigated by London’s transport authority.
Melanie Leech, chief executive at the British Property Federation, welcomed the new body’s creation.
“Infrastructure is absolutely crucial to attracting the investment that is needed to regenerate the UK’s towns and cities and create growth,” she said.
“Today’s announcement is, therefore, very welcome, and we hope to see swift decisions over important projects to ensure clarity and certainty for investors.”
The Pensions Infrastructure Platform, launched by the UK’s National Association of Pension Funds, also welcomed the news, but its chief executive Mike Weston struck a more cautious note.
“For the Commission to be successful in attracting further pension fund investment in UK infrastructure, it must remember that pension funds will only invest in suitable projects,” he said.
“While the Commission and Lord Adonis’s appointment is a good start, the Commission will need to encourage the government and the market to structure projects in such a way that it makes sense for UK pension funds to invest.”
The UK Treasury is keen to attract greater pension investment into infrastructure, and Osborne also announced the pooling of local authority pension assets to better achieve this aim.
A Treasury statement said the newly pooled assets would “follow international norms” and grow their exposure to infrastructure, potentially through asset pools building up internal capability to invest in the asset class.
The government’s policy builds on proposals by the opposition Labour party, which in 2013 proposed an arms-length infrastructure body, after a report by the former London Olympic Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt recommended a system akin to the ones in place in Singapore and Australia.
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