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Show me the money: Will infrastructure get lost in politics?

The infrastructure and real estate sectors seem more than a little concerned by what may transpire in relation to long-term policy and strategy in the election aftermath.

At times this election seemed to be playing out the opening scenes of comedy series I’m Alan Partridge, where the embattled TV presenter pitches increasingly desperate ideas to the BBC in the hope of getting another series.

One could be forgiven for thinking that our political leaders are making it up as they go.  

That scene ends with Partridge proposing a show called Monkey Tennis.

Some recent policy pledges evoke a similar air of incredulity.

That said, some interesting ideas are being floated, including new garden cities and enhanced planning powers, but in the round the parties do seem to be in a bit of a muddle when it comes to infrastructure and housing policy.

“One could be forgiven for thinking that our political leaders are making it up as they go”

There are mixed pledges as to the number of houses to be built over the next five years, but the general industry view is that none of the parties have sufficiently ambitious housing plans. 

Furthermore, the manifestos fail to clearly set out how infrastructure and new housing will be funded, and as things stand, the UK cannot afford to modernise its infrastructure.

So where is the cash coming from? 

The mix of different political parties in coalition or supporting a minority government could be undesirable for infrastructure and housing. 

A recent CECA poll found two-thirds of construction firms are worried a delay in forming a government will put vital infrastructure projects at risk.  

This could damage investor confidence and hinder long-term infrastructure delivery and planning.  

Our economy is back on track and the fastest growing in the eurozone. 

“The next government will need to look elsewhere for cash given the constraints on its own funding”

It would be remiss if political rhetoric set this back, not least for a country that only spends 1.5 per cent of GDP on infrastructure – half of France’s spend and a quarter of Japan’s. 

The next government will need to look elsewhere for cash given the constraints on its own funding.

This may come from foreign capital investment, but that still needs to be paid for: investors will naturally want a return on their money.

In the absence of a magic money tree, that inevitably means higher taxes or higher prices for the consumer. 

This is why the UK is crying out for a national infrastructure strategy that examines our infrastructure needs on a holistic basis, prioritises projects, considers how they are to be funded and financed and above all, transcends party politics. 

For all the good work in the National Infrastructure Plan – and there is good work there – it does not address these fundamental issues. 

“In the absence of a magic money tree, that inevitably means higher taxes or higher prices for the consumer”

On the other hand, Sir John Armitt’s proposed National Infrastructure Commission, which would be adopted by Labour, could be a solution to helping the public sector create a forward-looking infrastructure strategy, but there needs to be more.

Despite the parties’ pledges, we can expect a blurred vision to emerge on the nation’s infrastructure and housing needs.

Transport and energy projects in particular are likely to be delayed while the deals and demands of the various parties are batted back and forth like a game of, well, monkey tennis.

By Chris Hallam is infrastructure partner at Pinsent Masons

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