Industry figures warn that government must not ignore independent advice

The decision on where to build new airport capacity in the South-east is being seen as a test case for the future of the National Infrastructure Commission.

On the recommendation of former chancellor George Osborne, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was set up less than a year ago with responsibility to provide independent, expert advice on the country’s infrastructure needs.

Osborne appointed Labour peer Lord Adonis as its first chairman, with other panel members including former Olympic Delivery Authority chairman Sir John Armitt, former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine and Sadie Morgan, co-founder of architect dRMM.

Now a number of senior figures have told Building that if prime minister Theresa May ignores last year’s recommendation by the Davies Commission – the airports group that said building a third runway at Heathrow airport was its preferred option to increase capacity – then the future of the NIC would be up in the air.

Richard Threlfall, head of construction and infrastructure at KPMG, said: “We have lost our way on infrastructure since the change of government - whereas before we had a really clear focus, it now doesn’t seem to register as being that important.”

The chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association, Alasdair Reisner, added: “If the government doesn’t go for Heathrow, we really need to have a very clear explanation of why it feels able to commission and then ignore independent advice.”

Heathrow’s public affairs director Nigel Milton also waded into the debate, telling Building: “If the government didn’t go for Heathrow, I think it would call into question the whole idea of the NIC, which must call into question the future of decision making over infrastructure projects in this country.”

A decision on where to increase airport capacity is expected to be taken by the government later this autumn.