Olympic Delivery Authority chair launches review of infrastructure planning in the UK

Sir John Armitt

Sir John Armitt

A new quango should be set up to conduct long-term reviews into the infrastructure needs of the country in a bid to forge political consensus on national priority projects, according to Olympic Delivery Authority chair Sir John Armitt.

Armitt, who has been commissioned by the Labour Party to undertake a review of infrastructure planning in the UK, confirmed his review would look at how to form political consensus around projects of national importance.

However, he said his initial feeling was that a body independent of the political process, such as the existing Davies Commission looking at airport capacity in the South-east of England, would be required to get the politicians to agree on priorities. “I think an NPDB (non-departmental public body) or independent body of some kind would be needed. To have credibility it would need to come to its views independently of politicians, and also could not be funded or run by the private sector.

“My initial assumption is that it could report to parliament, but this is a number of things we need to test.”

Armitt was speaking at the launch of the Infrastructure Review, and his comment came after he announced a high-powered panel of industry experts to work on the report. He added that a lack of political consensus around major projects was one of the main things holding back funding of major infrastructure in the UK, because the private sector was worried about investing in schemes which might later be abandoned.

The Infrastructure Review, which was commissioned by Labour Party shadow chancellor Ed Balls but which Armitt says is politically independent, will include Rachel Lomax, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England and Sir David Rowlands, a former Department for Transport permanent secretary and the current chair of Gatwick airport among its advisers.

In addition, Labour peer and former transport secretary Lord Adonis will sit on the advisory panel, alongside Alan Buckle, deputy chair of KPMG, Chris Elliott, chair of Barclays Infrastructure Funds Management, and Dr Paul Golby, the chair of Engineering UK.

Also speaking at the launch, Lord Adonis said the review would look at how the principles behind the Davies commission could be expanded to cover all of national infrastructure planning, and said that other models for how a system might work were the independent Office of Budget Responsibility, and Bank of England independence in setting interest rates. “These are all models we are studying. But lets be clear, no-one is suggesting the ultimate decision-making power is taken out of the hands of politicians as that would be fundamentally undemocratic.”

Armitt today issued a call for evidence for the review, to be submitted by 31 January 2013, with the final report due in September 2013.