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The forced resignation of a prime minister and the resulting power game at Westminster are just the tip of the iceberg of the problems the UK is currently facing. From the growing cost-of-living crisis and rising fuel prices, to the broader impacts of the war in Ukraine, to the affordability challenges related to the “levelling” of the country, the challenges the government British faces are both broad and deep. And all of this is happening at a time when it has been made clear that the climate crisis now represents the most pressing challenge of our generation.
Of course, current political upheaval aside, the issues of economic stagnation and the fight against climate change are not uniquely British problems. Indeed, they are shared across the world. In fact, for most developed countries, the infrastructure sector is not only essential for driving economic growth, but also responsible in itself for a very large percentage of national carbon emissions. As such, it is useful to observe how other countries are working to develop infrastructure that meets the needs of local communities, while integrating with national goals and targets such as net zero targets.
As a policy adviser to the UK Civil Service, the NSW Civil Service and in the Business Council, I have provided advice on reform of the planning system to Ministers, Independent Bodies of infrastructure planning, government agencies and business leaders. In my experience, there are some interesting examples of best practice in infrastructure planning in Australia which could provide useful insights into how to balance national, regional and local demands when creating new infrastructure – in particularly with regard to the empowerment of local authorities and infrastructure spending. power of mayors.
There are certainly many differences between Australia and the UK. Despite sharing a Westminster-style central government, the framework in Australia is a federation of states and territories, with the states primarily holding power and decision-making powers over regional delivery funding. In this scenario, the role of the national government is essentially advisory. However, there are relevant lessons and examples between the two countries.
Regional decision-making certainly has its advantages. The Australian experience demonstrates the positive impact of integrating strategic transport, land use and infrastructure planning with broad financing and insurance mechanisms that meet the needs and aspirations of businesses and local communities: which is crucial for leveling and stimulating local/regional economic growth.
Australia’s Plan Alignment Experience
While the current UK Government has pledged to strengthen sub-regional devolution in the Leveling and Regeneration Bill currently going through Parliament, there remains debate over whether the extent of delegation of authority and funding will be sufficient to sufficiently achieve leveling ambitions. at the top. According to the Australian model, aligning transport, land use and infrastructure planning at regional/local levels in the UK has the potential to have a lasting impact with the right level of investment.
The Australian states of South Australia and New South Wales provide useful examples of the strength of true integration of land use planning and infrastructure planning, with effective funding power. For example, since 2013, South Australia has developed an integrated transport and land use plan in concert with a strategic infrastructure plan, while New South Wales has gone further with a pipeline of record infrastructure financing, secured by asset recycling, prioritized to achieve the objectives of the integrated regime.
The power of integration is most evident in decisions to invest in rail projects to serve new population and economic growth in Sydney’s western suburbs. At first glance, this investment decision does not meet traditional cost-benefit assessments, i.e. how to save travel time to an as yet non-existent population? Alternatively, in viewing development through the prism of long-term economic and spatial planning, Australian Government, Treasury and Cabinet decision makers have considered ambitions to better distribute population and economic growth across a large metropolitan area, rather than looking at infrastructure investment in isolation.
Guarantee public spending through independent infrastructure bodies
Rightly so, when considering increasing powers and funding, it is essential that public funds are allocated and spent appropriately. In this, there must be a responsibility. It is clear that the insurance and liability requirements covering the growing number of combined authorities in the UK need to be developed to ensure that they can support the large funding envelopes for infrastructure and service delivery. services in mind.
In 2008, the Australian Federal Government established an independent body, Infrastructure Australia, to provide assurance on infrastructure priorities and business cases for projects across the Federation. Similarly, New South Wales has created Infrastructure NSW, to ensure at a more local level that spending decisions demonstrate value for money for taxpayers when measured against long-term economic and social priorities. government term. In a crucial extension, Infrastructure NSW has received legislative support for its role.
We now have a situation in Australia where each state and territory has set up independent infrastructure bodies. Having an assurance function that has internalized local land use and transportation planning priorities over a 30-year horizon reassures ratepayers that decisions are made for the long-term good term. Particularly regarding the link between infrastructure progress and tackling the climate crisis, which will outlive any change of government. Independent bodies like Infrastructure NSW give confidence to citizens and businesses that infrastructure policy issues that extend beyond election cycles are dealt with consistently.
Could this be an example where the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) in the UK could evolve further alongside the sub-regional delegation of powers envisaged in the bill leveling and regeneration? As the Australian examples show, the creation of regional infrastructure bodies can make it possible to better take into account local needs, priorities and in particular community requirements in the execution of projects.
As with all countries striving to restore and grow their economy, there are many lessons and experiences to be shared between the UK and Australia. Indeed, their common historical and cultural ties provide an easy transition to a contemporary discussion of national infrastructure and planning policy. Just as Australia’s experience with sub-national devolution can be instructive for the UK, the UK’s drive to decarbonise its infrastructure and economy can also offer examples of changes that Australian policymakers could incorporate into their infrastructure planning and investment decisions.
Ultimately, delegating decision-making about spending on people and places to the optimal level holds rich potential for success and economic growth. Carefully aligning transportation and land use with regional infrastructure investments can dramatically improve outcomes for people and businesses. All with a proportionate level of independent liability and insurance, of course.
Graham Pointer is Director of Strategic Consulting Growth at WSP, one of the UK’s leading engineering professional services consultancies.
To find out more about how WSP’s Strategic Advisory team support clients across the UK, or to contact us, please visit our Strategic Advisory webpage. here.