The National Infrastructure Assessment – Cities without Regions, Regions without Cities and Mayors with Powers but no Accountability

Its Here

On the NIC website.

The first impression is the lack of specific schemes and priorities.  Its initial brief from George Osborne seemed to define the NIC’s role as to do this.  Under the current chancellor it seems to have been downgraded to super think tanks, mainly though usefully engaged in futurology over how to adapt our neworks to future challenges such as a post carbon world and climate change adptation.

It only gives advice on specific projects and corridors when asked (e.g. Northern Powerhouse Rail, Crossrail 2, Cam-MK-OX),  but what is now lacking is any National component of strategy on how national networks need to be changed and what the priorities should be given the constraints given in its remit of 2.5% of GDP ( a figure I think which would trap us in long term national decline).

The report makes bold recommendations on quadrupling funding on flood resilience and putting renewable energy at the top of the queue for funding.  Well done so I wont comment in detail on these.

It retreats from its assessment in the draft that we should downgrade rail freight in favour of autonomous trucks.  It got burnt and was out of its depth on this one so it rightly is doing more focused research on freight and logistics, something we badly need a national strategy for, especially rail freight, air freight, transhipment points and lorry parking.

Where it loses its way is a section on housing and cities.

Unlocking growth in cities requires:
-developing integrated strategies for housing, employment and
transport, to allow cities to grow and people to live and work where
they want
-devolving planning and funding for urban infrastructure to all cities
-prioritising major upgrades for cities with the most growth
potential and capacity constraints
-£43 billion of additional investment in urban transport by 2040

The focus is on cities not city regions.  Some combined authorities and their mayors cover city regions some don’t.   It is very complicated and messy.  Some major growth corridors have no  ‘cities’ in governance terms at all – like Thames Estuary (former Thames Gateway) outside London, PUSH etc. etc.  Its a mess.  The government focus has been to shift to combined authorities with mayors, but you have to ask does this work?  It certainly hasn’t worked in Greater Cambridgeshire for example.  None of the Combined Authority Mayors like the Mayor of London has the discipline of having their strategy needing to be funded by a budget voted on by an assembly, and the transport planning arrangements have duplicated rather than replaced or built on existing arrangements, whilst only in one case the West of England has it been mirrored with a joint strategic plan that is statutory, and even there its governance is entirely separate.  Increasingly the combined authority ‘cities’ look to me like the mess in New York State where the leadership is dominated by suburban concerns and an anti-urban concern to prevent cities growing and to divert infrastructure funding to the electoral base of a donut ring – increasing sprawl.   Doug Ford, James Palmer, Andrew Cuomo – you see the connection.  We see around the world that such governance arrangements don’t work.  They were a Osborne plot anyway to undermine power independent cities that might have been independent bases for other parties.

The government is in a bit of a pickle on this one.  It want more joint strategic plans, but completely lacks the legal powers and structures to make this work.  As I have blogged on here before.  It also has seen what some of the combined Mayors are doing and isnt impressed much.  Where next – especally in an age where shotgun mergers and reorganisations are on the cards. ?