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CN Briefing: national needs assessment; infrastructure; KPMG; Sir John Armitt; major projects

A national needs assessment for UK infrastructure will be published in late October, Sir John Armitt said today.

The Institution of Civil Engineers president was speaking at a conference discussing future infrastructure needs at KPMG’s Canary Wharf HQ this morning.

The NNA work is being carried out by a group which includes Cambridge and Oxford Universities, the CBI, Thames Water and Pinsent Masons.

It was started by the ICE before the chancellor announced the formation of the National Infrastructure Commission and will now inform the NIC’s work.

One advantage, according to Sir John, is it will help guide the NIC’s work and, therefore, government thinking.

This means that any criticism the NNA gets in October for ignoring this project or getting that priority wrong will allow the NIC to improve or amend its own research.

That’s not to dismiss the work currently being carried out for the NNA. The depth of research behind the scenes is mind boggling.

If, ultimately, the government chooses to ignore this research, it may be time for the industry to down tools and march on Westminster, hopefully with Sir John leading from the front.

Professor Jim Hall from the consortium currently assessing the UK’s infrastructure needs, confirmed that nuclear plays a major part in its modelling of the UK’s future energy mix to 2050.

Which made me think that a priority for this NNA and also the work of the NIC must be to try and bring public and private sector thinking closer together.

In the case of Hinkley Point, for example, you have a government committed to building the project but left in limbo by the failure of the private sector to commit.

The government will not only underwrite risk on this riskiest of schemes, but it will facilitate overseas investment t alks and not even come up with a plan B, such is its confidence in the UK’s security of supply.

And yet, we are still in the midst of hand-wringing and delays that have stretched on for years, because the private sector is still not ready to invest.

The government wants to get it done, but can’t.

Infrastructure in this country depends on the public and private sector singing from the same hymn sheet.

Not only should this need assessement work inform government thinking, it should also give confidence to the private sector that the projects they want to invest in will get built.

And the only way that can happen is if the government continues to support and implement the NIC’s recommendations.

That way, private sector developers will be able to use the NIC’s work as a blueprint for investment, confident that the government of the day will listen to and act on the measures and priorities it identifies.

Bite size

Sir John referred at one point to John Kay’s FT column today, in which he argues that the UK’s constant need to be the ‘world leader’ in mega projects is counterproductive. But it neglects one thing. If Crossrail wasn’t ‘Europe’s largest infrastructure project’ would the coalition government that came to power in 2010 have kept it?

KPMG’s James Stewart made the point that more money will need to be spent on security in the coming years, be it to protect against natural disasters, cyber or terrorism attacks.

He said this will prove problematic, as the spending falls to the public purse but in return the public has little visibility of the benefits. However the same can be said, in the construction phase, of most projects. Not many people are overjoyed with the prospect of Crossrail today. Come 2019, when it has a positive impact on their journey, they will be thinking differently.

Construction News visits the biggest and best UK projects each week. This week, read all about our visit to Broadmoor.

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