Concerns have been raised over the news that the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is to be put on a permanent footing without statutory status, including a lukewarm response from its current chair.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has announced that the NIC is to become an executive agency with its own budget, freedom and autonomy set out in a charter.
Lord Andrew Adonis, NIC interim chair
The Government said this showed its clear commitment to the NIC’s independence. However, the body will not be placed on a statutory footing, as ministers had previously promised.
Reflecting his speech last week to the Conservative Party conference, Mr Hammond said: ‘Today I have set out how we are putting the National Infrastructure Commission at the very heart of our plans to ensure Britain’s infrastructure is fit for the future.’
The NIC’s current interim chair, Lord Adonis, gave the move a half-hearted welcome, calling it ‘a big step towards providing the commission with the independence it needs to do the work’.
He added: ‘Now it is vital that we get the details right to ensure that the NIC has everything it needs to get on with the job.’
The Queen’s speech in May promised a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, which would ‘establish the independent National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis’.
However, last month ministers published a Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which does not mention the NIC.
Marie-Claude Hemming, head of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, also gave the news a lukewarm welcome.
She said: ‘Historically, the development of infrastructure in the UK has lacked long-term strategy, or been subject to party political considerations. This means that large projects, such as Crossrail and High Speed 1, have taken too long to develop and build.
‘Nonetheless, while today’s announcement is a welcome sign of progress, it is unclear whether the Government plans to give the NIC a basis in law.
'In May, it was announced that the NIC was to be placed on a statutory footing, which would enable it to take long-term decisions reflecting priorities that span the lifecycle of more than one Parliament. If the NIC is to be truly independent of Government and have the powers it needs to do its work, it must have a basis in law.’
Ministers said an open competition will be held to find the commission’s first permanent chair and new commissioners before the new agency comes into being in January.
In the meantime Sir John Armitt, whose work led to the creation of the NIC has agreed to be its interim Deputy Chair with immediate effect.
The Governments has also launched a call for ideas to inform the commission’s next in-depth study, to be announced later in the year, ‘following successful reports which identified the benefits of Crossrail 2, transforming Northern connectivity and smart power’.
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