The government has today published a formal response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s September 2021 report on how infrastructure can support economic growth and quality of life in English towns.
The Commission’s central recommendation was a shift towards handing power to local areas to deliver their own infrastructure strategies with five-year devolved budgets, and a move away from competitive bidding for centrally controlled pots of funding.
The 74 county councils and unitary authorities responsible for strategic transport planning should be resourced to develop long term infrastructure strategies for the towns in its area, supported by a pipeline of projects, recommended the Commission.
Government’s response can be found here. It acknowledges the importance of devolution and repeats the commitments made in the Levelling Up white paper to extending the number of areas with devolved powers, but that five-year budgets will be a matter of negotiation in each devolution deal. The response also repeats government’s intention to review the funding landscape, with a plan to follow later this year.
Noting today’s response, Bridget Rosewell, National Infrastructure Commissioner, said:
“However a new prime minister wants to frame it, boosting economic growth, productivity and quality of life across all parts of the UK will no doubt be core to their objectives. Government’s response to our study echoes the acknowledgement in the Levelling Up white paper that this cannot be delivered by Whitehall alone.
“But for local infrastructure strategies to work, we still need to see urgent and fundamental reform of how local transport funding is allocated, with a shift from short term funding pots over which councils bid against each other, to long term devolved funding deals.
“While government is making welcome progress on new devolution deals, it’s difficult to see how brokering ad hoc arrangements and complicated controls with each area is likely to lead to real change on the ground everywhere by 2030 – government’s own target date for its Levelling Up missions.”
‘Levelling up’ is one of the three key strategic themes which will frame the second National Infrastructure Assessment, to be published in the second half of 2023.