The National Infrastructure Commission – chaired by cycling peer Lord Adonis – released its remit yesterday, and also revealed that it seeks views from interested bodies and members of the public. The independent body was created in October by Chancellor George Osborne. While the organisation’s eventual findings are not binding on the government it will be extremely hard for them to be ignored.
The appointment of Adonis was designed to take the politics out of infrastructure projects. The new commission was modelled on the independent fiscal watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility, and was originally a Labour policy.
The Commission will publish a National Infrastructure Assessment every Parliament setting out its analysis of the UK’s infrastructure needs over a 10- to 30-year horizon. The Government will be required formally to respond to the recommendations of the NIC.
Lord Adonis said: “Infrastructure failure results in the unnecessary chaos, costs and congestion too many of us are forced to put up with each and every day. This is an opportunity we must not waste.”
The day-to-day work of the Commission will be led by former civil servant Phil Graham, joining from the Department for Transport.
Lord Adonis was Transport Secretary under Gordon Brown, and is both a cyclist and a supporter of cycling.
Adonis become a crossbench peer in order to chair the Commission. When Transport Secretary he started the ball rolling for HS2 and he has also voiced his support for cycling on many occasions.
In 2009, as Transport Secretary, he told the Labour party conference:
"Cycling [is] the greenest form of travel. For too long in this country we have hesitated to promote cycling as a mainstream form of transport."
He added: "More than half of all journeys are of five miles or less. If we made it easier and safer, more people would cycle. Just talk to the people already on their bikes. They love it. They sail past the traffic, they enjoy the exercise, they get a sense of freedom.
"In much of continental Europe, cycling is already mainstream. In Copenhagen ... a staggering 40 per cent of journeys are now by bike.
"If we want a cycling revolution in this country, everyone should be able to join in.
During a ministerial visit to Copenhagen in 2009 to see the Danish city's cycling infrastructure Adonis told his hosts: "I'm impressed. You have many helpful ideas. We have a lot to learn."
In 2013, Adonis said on Twitter:
"Cycling should be an essential factor in infrastructure planning - as I learned from cycling around Copenhagen."
The National Infrastructure Commission’s consultation document states that the measures it will recommend must “serve the well-being of UK citizens”, something that active travel delivers in spades.
However, no matter how many emails the Commission receives it won’t be able to tell government its £15.2 billion road building plans won’t solve congestion or will increase carbon emissions because “the commission will not re-open decision-making processes where programmes and work have been decided … for instance the Roads Investment Strategy …”
Green MP Caroline Lucas has urged that the Commission be given a clear climate change remit that would ensure any future infrastructure projects are compatible with the UK's long term climate goals.
The government refuses to be drawn on this.
Nevertheless, this could be a good chance for cyclists, pedestrians, and walking and cycling bodies, to put forward the case that investment in infrastructure for walking and cycling is financially and socially the right thing to do.
Positively, the commission “will be able to look at infrastructure needs in the round, and give clear advice on issues that are complex, long-term, or affect a number of different types of infrastructure.”
The Commission will make “recommendations on potentially controversial issues, and bring stability to long-term infrastructure plans, which will increase the likelihood of its recommendations attracting a political consensus.”
It will be important for cycling and walking to get on the commission’s agenda because it aims to “set out a clear picture of the future infrastructure we need, producing an in-depth assessment of the UK’s major infrastructure needs on a 30-year time horizon.”
The Commission can be sent views, from now until March, via NICconsultation@hmtreasury.gsi.gov.uk or by post,
HM Treasury 1 Horse Guards Road London SW1A 2HQ