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Queen's Speech leaves infrastructure issues unanswered

Amid the pomp and ceremony of the Queen’s Speech, some vital messages about modernising the UK’s ailing infrastructure were delivered.

The Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill unveiled faster, fairer and more transparent processes for the provision of housing and infrastructure across the UK.

A drive for efficiency strikes at the heart of the bill.

Such measures are no doubt a breath of fresh air for developers which have time and again been blighted by planning bottlenecks, prompting lengthy and costly delays on projects critical to the future of the UK.

COP cleaned up

The most eye-catching of last week’s announcements was the streamlining of the compulsory purchase regime.

The frustration many have with this process is not the level of compensation, but the length of time required to compensate homeowners.

“A drive for efficiency strikes at the heart of the bill”

The outmoded existing legislation leaves those affected by infrastructure developments out of pocket until the project is in the advanced stages, meaning properties and communities can be blighted for years.

A clearer and quicker process will remove some of that frustration and could help boost public engagement and support for major infrastructure projects.

While we are yet to see the mechanics of the revamped regime, such a move could be transformational for projects such as High Speed 2. No doubt developers and investors will keep a watchful eye on the bill as it makes its way through parliament.

Alongside rejuvenated planning laws, the Queen also announced that statutory status will be given to the government’s National Infrastructure Commission.

Charged with providing expert, independent advice and a clear vision for infrastructure development up to 2050, the NIC’s legally binding status gives it the backing it requires to be a valuable agent of change for the UK.

Elephants still in the room

The bill has laid the foundation for success. What’s needed now is a clear plan of how we are going to deliver infrastructure that will maintain the UK’s place as a global economic hub. There are some fundamental issues yet to be addressed.

“Squaring ROI with a public innately suspicious of private finance initiatives could be a stumbling block”

Who will pay for these ambitious projects? Government must play a strategic role in enabling the infrastructure industry to be self-sufficient – a critical part of which is attracting private sector finance.

Investors need to be paid a return on their investment. But squaring this with a public innately suspicious of private finance initiatives and the perception they reward investors too generously could be a stumbling block.

Taxation and tolling are equally unpopular, leaving something of a void in the funding of major infrastructure projects.

Tackling the skills shortage must also be a priority. We don’t currently have the capacity to deliver on our ambitious plans.

Greater participation of foreign companies will be crucial to making major projects a reality. This may solve the problem, but it raises questions about the shape and composition of the future supply chain.

We need to find a way to support our indigenous industries while attracting much-needed participation from those equipped to overhaul our ailing infrastructure.

Government’s efforts to streamline process and boost efficiency are valuable. We must build on this foundation to make our infrastructure ambition a reality.

Richard Laudy is the head of infrastructure at Pinsent Masons

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