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Watch: Long-term political consensus needed for UK infrastructure

Former transport minister and HS2 Growth Taskforce member Steven Norris has stressed the importance of long-term political consensus for UK’s major infrastructure projects.

Speaking to Construction News, Mr Norris [below] said: “Unless you’ve got people across the political spectrum engaged on major projects, the danger is [infrastructure projects] can last on one parliament and then promptly be crushed by the next.”

However he added that industry had to be realistic about how political consensus was formed because politicians had to balance decisions with the interests of their constituents.  

He was speaking following a panel discussion at business lobby group, London First’s, London Infrastructure Summit last week.

The panel included, Olympic Delivery Authority chairman Sir John Armitt and Thames Tideway Tunnel’s Michael Gerrard.

Mr Norris added that a consensus between the Treasury and government departments was just as important as overall party agreement.

He said this had been a major problem for him in his role as transport minister, with too much emphasis placed on cost/benefit ratios.

Sir John said that politicians and industry had to be prepared to “get out there and tell people the facts” to increase support for projects.

He added that it was crucial to listen to local government and authorities to allow them to input into the wider debate, but insisted they should not have the final say on wider infrastructure projects.

The panel agreed ministers should encourage MPs to think about the “bigger picture” and not just what was best for their constituency, but Mr Norris said this was a point that everyone had to be realistic about.

Sir John Armitt has begun work on draft legislation to introduce a National Infrastructure Commission for the Labour Party, which could be included in its 2015 election manifesto, following his Armitt Review last year.

The Armitt Review was commission by Labour and recommended that a National Infrastructure Commission was needed to look 20 to 30 years ahead at the UK’s future infrastructure needs.

Mr Norris said that while Sir John Armitt’s review was “hugely desirable” he feared it would go to waste and ministers would fail to act on his recommendations.

Thames Tideway Tunnel managing director Michael Gerrard said long-term vision over infrastructure projects in the UK had “dramatically improved”.

However he said that the government’s Green Book, published by the Treasury to give guidance for central government on how public sector bodies should prepare and analyse projects to manage risk, was “still defective on evaluating long-term infrastructure projects”.

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