Placing infrastructure improvements at the heart of the devolution agenda could have significant benefits for the region, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) North East.
In its State of the Nation: Devolution report, the leading engineering body backed Government efforts to rebalance the economy, and the focus on infrastructure as the key driver. It also welcomed the creation of the North East and Tees Valley Combined Authorities, and Transport for the North, a new body dedicated to improving road and rail links between northern towns and cities.
ICE also set out some improvements to current arrangements, which it said could help authorities to deliver the maximum benefits of devolution to communities. In a 10 point plan it called for the bodies to be granted greater access to flexible financing streams to supplement central Government funding, enabling investment in infrastructure that can transform local economies, and the skills needed to deliver it.
ICE said an overarching infrastructure strategy based on need should be established for the North of England, so money is directed towards the right projects.
ICE also recommended that all new devolution proposals clearly set out how they will improve environmental sustainability and quality of life, as well as drive growth, claiming a more integrated approach would lead to broader benefits and could help to garner more public support for devolution.
Adrian Coy, ICE Vice President and State of the Nation: Devolution Steering Group Chair, said: “The benefits of effective infrastructure in the North East are well established, it can boost economic growth, create jobs, regenerate communities, connect people and places and drive environmental sustainability. It provides the foundation of modern society. It is right that infrastructure investment is the driving force behind Government’s plans to rebalance the economy, and we hope to see ongoing commitment to the devolution agenda during the EU exit negotiations, so momentum is not lost.
“Combined Authorities must now take the helm and deliver these benefits locally. This will be no mean feat, but with the right frameworks, investment and skills in place they can succeed.
“To ensure decisions on spending are strategic, an overarching regional infrastructure strategy should be developed, based on need. Transport for the North has provided greater focus for transport services and we should build on this success, establishing a strategy covering all networks, recognising their interdependent nature. The National Needs Assessment ICE is leading, which will feed into the National Infrastructure Commission, provides a workable model.
“We would also like to see more rounded devolution proposals. Rebalancing the economy should not only be thought of in financial terms. Enriching people’s lives is not just about increasing their income but also the quality of their living environments”
ICE 10 recommendations
- All future devolution proposals should demonstrate how they will improve quality of life and environmental sustainability in addition to driving economic growth
- Authorities seeking a devolution deal should demonstrate a clear model for leadership and accountability; however models to achieve this should reflect each area’s unique identity and preferred approach
- Restrictions stopping combined authorities from accessing flexible private finance streams must be lifted if they are to deliver and maintain transformative infrastructure
- Future devolution deals must include funding for digital infrastructure so smart technologies which improve services for the public and the environment can be developed
- Infrastructure strategies should be developed for emerging economic areas in England setting out needs, to provide a framework for decision-making
- Similar approaches to identify strategic needs should be developed for London, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland
- Infrastructure strategies must have resilience at their heart – considering the interdependent nature of each areas networks and mitigating the knock-on failure which can occur during extreme weather, affecting local businesses and economies
- Regional pipelines setting out confirmed infrastructure projects should be developed, enabling government, industry and academia to invest in the right training in the local area
- Combined authorities should be given responsibility for the skills development of those aged 16-19 – in addition to those aged 19 plus – to create a more joined up approach
- Government should provide pre-submission advice – to ensure high quality devolution proposals that deliver effective outcomes for the country