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Sir John Armitt: Infrastructure commission is 'excellent news'

The man behind Labour’s proposed National Infrastructure Commission has welcomed George Osborne’s plans to resurrect the body.

Speaking after the chancellor revealed the government was to launch an infrastructure commission chaired by former transport secretary Lord Adonis, Sir John Armitt told Construction News: “I’m delighted, it is excellent news.

“A lot of people have been asking for a long time for a considered long-ranging view on infrastructure in the UK.”

Sir John said he had not been contacted about the commission ahead of Mr Osborne’s announcement, but backed the appointment of Lord Adonis.

The commission will focus on London’s transport system, connections between cities in the North of England, and updating the energy network including nuclear new build.

The chancellor also announced a move to make sweeping changes to planning regulations, in a move Sir John said could accelerate the delivery of new housing projects.

“Housing is always going to be difficult; because of the local interest we need really strong leadership there.

“Whenever you’re looking for large-scale housing delivery there needs to be a commitment from national government.”

Commenting on the appointment of Lord Adonis, he added: “It’s great that Andrew is chairing the commission. Andrew has enormous drive for infrastructure in general and he got HS2 off the drawing board.”

The appointment has been well-received across the sector.

One former colleague of Lord Adonis’s from the Department for Transport said: “I cannot think of anyone better [for the job]. He’s a great strategic thinker and he understands government.”

Aecom chief executive of civil infrastructure Richard Robinson said: “Attempting to de-politicise infrastructure decision-making may help bring some of the UK’s critically needed infrastructure projects to fruition.

“Lord Adonis’s appointment is a smart move: more than just a political coup, it sends a signal that the commission will be truly cross-party.

“The challenge now is delivery. Ensuring the UK has the technical and organisational skills to deliver must be a priority.”

Mr Osborne announced a £5bn boost for major projects during this parliament, to be funded through the sale of state assets.

He also outlined plans to combine 89 council pension funds in England and Wales into six regional funds to give them the scale to invest in major infrastructure projects.

“Pulling the pension funds together was a good idea,” Sir John continued. “There was an issue around scale here so pulling them together can only be a good thing.”

Mark Elsey, global head of infrastructure at law firm Ashurst, also welcomed the move but questioned whether it would have an impact.

“It’s not addressing the real infrastructure needs,” he told Construction News. “There’s not a shortage of equity at the moment so funding isn’t an issue.

“The question is can we create a sustainable pipeline of affordable projects that pension funds and other investors can put their money into?”

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