Exclusive: Sir John Armitt will meet with former Labour transport secretary Lord Andrew Adonis this week to find six names for his infrastructure commission announced by shadow chancellor Ed Balls last month.
Olympic Delivery Authority chairman Sir John told CN that the idea for an independent commission came from Lord Adonis, before shadow chancellor Ed Balls announced it at the Labour party conference in Manchester.
The independent commission will seek written and oral evidence for a final report, which is expected to take around a year to complete.
It will aim to try and set out guidelines for achieving broad political consensus on major infrastructure, with a 25-year forward view.
Sir John said: “The initial approach was from Andrew Adonis and the concept was one that had been thought about by Andrew who had spoken to the two Eds [Labour leader Ed Miliband and Mr Balls] about taking it forward.
“Rather than Andrew being seen to be leading it, they felt I would represent it in an independent manner.
“The objective is to look at the institutional structure when it comes to planning infrastructure and taking a long-term strategic review.”
He added the commission would be examining whether it is possible to “create a structure where we are able to take a 25-year look ahead” on the UK’s infrastructure needs.
In previous interviews with CN, Sir John has criticised the length of time being taken to make crucial decisions on major infrastructure such as HS2 and any runway extension at Heathrow.
In July he told CN there was a “lack of maturity” in the debate on infrastructure in the UK.
In August he added: “You have to have political leaders to have the guts to say yes and ‘we are not going to debate it for five years because it is not in the national interest’.”
But speaking to CN last week, he said the government’s decision to establish an independent commission on aviation capacity headed by former CBI chief Sir Howard Davies could be a good idea as it would de-politicise the debate ahead of the next general election in 2015.
He said: “It seems sensible. It’s an essential review. I know from talking to Ed Balls that he thought it would be a good idea and is pleased that the Conservative party is putting [a commission] in place.
“I have been critical on the length of time given to the airport review but on the other hand if it goes till [after] the next election, but gives you more of a chance to reach an agreed position by taking it out of the debate of the next election, then that might a good thing.”
Asked whether the scope of his commission’s investigation would extend out from economic infrastructure into key areas such as housing, Sir John said that in principle it would cover main infrastructure sectors including transport, water and energy.
However, he said that by examining long-term projections for infrastructure, issues such as housing capacity would inevitably form part of the discussion around associated civil infrastructure.
Sir John added that the report would focus less on delivering infrastructure and more on achieving political consensus to avoid the “constant [policy] flip-flop according to whoever is in power”.
He will meet with Mr Adonis this week to discuss “the resources needed” for the report, which he envisages taking about a year, and will look at evidence already published as well as lessons learned from other countries.
Construction minister Michael Fallon told CN at the Conservative party conference last week that he was withholding judgement on whether Sir John’s commission would be “a political gimmick or whether it’s useful”.
In response, Sir John told CN he would make sure people on the panel would not be seen as “being tied to Labour”, but conceded he was being “realistic” about what the report could achieve.
“I am well aware there have been countless reviews over the years,” he said.
“Some of them unfortunately finished by being used to put coffee cups on; some have had elements rejected while others have become important support for future reviews.”
Even so, he said that no-one in the industry has seen the importance of infrastructure being as widely recognised by political parties as it is today.
Sir John is one of the board members remaining with the ODA while it completes the redevelopment and sale of the Olympic Village to developers Qatari Diar and Delancey.
He is also deputy chairman of Berkeley Group, and this month becomes chairman of City & Guilds.