National Infrastructure Commission NIC
On 5 October 2015, the then-Chancellor George Osborne announced the creation of a National Infrastructure Commission that would begin work immediately (Ref Gov.uk Chancellor announces major plan to get Britain building).
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), would be chaired by Lord Andrew Adonis, a Labour peer, and overseen by a small board appointed by the Chancellor. Lord Adonis resigned the Labour whip in the House of Lords to chair the Commission, sitting instead as a cross-bench peer to maintain an independent status. The NIC was expected to have around 25-30 permanent staff, and to have statutory powers to allow it to draw on the expertise of regulators and national delivery bodies.
It was is intended to provide an unbiased analysis of the UK's long-term infrastructure needs, delivering a long-term assessment and plan early in each parliament. It was expected to report every five years, looking 30 years ahead and to examine the evidence across sectors including; energy, roads, rail transport, ports and airports, water supply, waste, flood defences, digital and broadband, and how this investment could support housing development.
The government would be obliged to respond to its recommendations, either accepting them or setting out how they would develop alternatives.
Initially the NIC was expected to focus on:
- Plans to transform the connectivity of the Northern cities.
- Priorities for future large-scale investment in London's public transport infrastructure.
- How to ensure investment in energy infrastructure meets future demand in the most efficient way.
Lord Adonis said: “Without big improvements to its transport and energy systems, Britain will grind to a halt. I look forward to establishing the National Infrastructure Commission as an independent body able to advise government and Parliament on priorities. Major infrastructure projects like Crossrail and major new power stations span governments and parliaments. I hope it will be possible to forge a wide measure of agreement, across society and politics, on key infrastructure requirements for the next 20 to 30 years and the assessments which have underpinned them.
At a formal launch event on 30 October 2015, the membership of the 8-person NIC was confirmed as:
- Former transport secretary Lord Adonis.
- Former Conservative deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine.
- Former member of the Bank of England's rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee Prof Tim Besley.
- Former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority Sir John Armitt.
- Neuroscientist Sadie Morgan.
- Former Chief Economist to the Greater London Authority, Bridget Rosewell.
- Chairman of the Victoria & Albert Museum Sir Paul Ruddock.
See Osborne launches National Infrastructure Commission for more information.
The creation of the NIC was broadly welcomed by the industry, but concerns were expressed about how competing needs would be managed (ref Construction Manager 6 October).
 Initial activities
On 13 November 2015, during a two-day fact-finding visit to the north of England, Andrew Adonis, then described as the 'interim' Chair of the NIC, launched a call for evidence, focusing on three of the UK's most critical infrastructure challenges; northern connectivity, London’s transport system and energy. See National Infrastructure Commission call for evidence for more information.
In December 2015, it was announced that Phil Graham, from the Department for Transport had been appointed chief executive of the Commission.
At the end of January 2016, a panel of academics, lobbyists and business leaders was established to undertake a 'national needs assessment' with the intention of publishing a vision for UK infrastructure up to 2050 in the Autumn. The panel was chaired by Sir John Armitt, the President of Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and member of the NIC.
In March 2016, the NIC published three reports:
- 'Transport for a world city' in which it suggested Crossrail 2 should be taken forward as a priority, funded fully, with the aim of submitting a hybrid bill by autumn 2019. This would enable Crossrail 2 to open in 2033.
- 'Smart Power' which set out a plan to ensure supply and demand are balanced as efficiently as possible in the energy system.
- 'High Speed North', a plan to transform the connectivity of the Northern cities.
A government response to the three reports was published in April 2016.
 Governance, powers and reform
On 7 January 2016, NIC announced a consultation on the governance, structure and operation of the commission. Lord Adonis, said, "We need to improve the way we plan and deliver major infrastructure projects in this country. This consultation sets out how a strong and independent National Infrastructure Commission can do exactly that." The consultation ran for 10 weeks, closing on Thursday 17 March 2016.
On 29 February 2016, the CBI published a report Plotting the course, in which it called for the NIC to be 'given teeth' and identified eight key areas that should be prioritised, including; delivering a low-carbon energy supply, preparing for the roll-out of 5G, factoring in climate change when planning water supplies and flood defences, and devising creative solutions to meet the growing demand on roads, rails and ports.
The Queen's speech on 18 May 2016 suggested that the introduction of a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill would give a statutory basis to the NIC (up to that point, working under interim provisions) via primary legislation, meaning that it would be mandatory for the government to respond to recommendations from the commission.
On 26 May 2016, the Commission launched a further consultation Seeking views on the process and methodology of the National Infrastructure Assessment. The consultation closed on 5 August 2016.
However, when the proposed Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill was introduced to Parliament in September 2016 as the Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016-17 it did not include any mention of a statutory basis for the NIC.
A spokesperson for the NIC said, “What matters is that the Commission is established in a way that firmly secures its independence, provides the powers that it needs to do its job and places clear obligations on government to respond to its recommendations in a timely fashion. How this is done is a matter for government. But if the Commission is to succeed in its work it will be essential to get it right, and we look forward to seeing the government’s new proposals as soon as possible.”
In October 2016, speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, Chancellor Philip Hammond said "... I recommit to putting the Commission at the very heart of our plans to renew and expand Britain’s infrastructure”, but it was unclear what this reassurance actually meant..
Following this, on 10 October 2016, the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, London First and the Infrastructure Forum Advisory Council wrote an open letter to Hammond calling for the NIC to be made a statutory body.
On 12 October 2016, Hammond announced that the NIC would become an executive agency, with its own budget, freedom and autonomy. This new form for the NIC will come into force in January 2017, with Sir John Armitt agreeing to be interim Deputy Chair. An open competition will be held to find the commission’s first permanent Chair and new additional commissioners to boost the team and take forward its work.
The announcement was accompanied by publication of:
- Charter for the National Infrastructure Commission.
- National Infrastructure Commission specific studies: call for ideas.
However, Head of external affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Marie-Claude Hemming said: “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.”
At the end of October 2016, the NIC put out a further call for evidence setting out 28 questions in relation to the National Infrastructure Assessment. It also established a Technical Panel and an Analytical Panel.
 Technology study
In November 2016, the government commissioned the NIC to conduct a study into how new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things could improve infrastructure productivity. Chancellor Philip Hammond wrote to Lord Adonis asking for the study to identify the technologies with the greatest potential and the steps government should take to support their deployment.
The emerging technologies with the most potential according to the government will be those that optimise the management, performance and maintenance of existing and future infrastructure assets to support economic growth.
The commission has been asked to publish its report by the end of 2017.
NIC deputy chair Sir John Armitt said: “From electric vehicles to the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, the technologies of the future could have an enormous impact on the UK’s economic infrastructure and the ways in which rely upon it.
“As new technologies develop, Britain must do everything it can to ensure that we are best placed to reap the benefits - and that includes incorporating innovative new systems and practices into the infrastructure that keeps our country moving.
“Britain should seek to lead the world in harnessing the emerging technologies that can make our lives easier and our economy more productive. This study will consider how we make that happen.”
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Construction 2025.
- Osborne launches National Infrastructure Commission.
- Government construction strategy.
- Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
- Infrastructure UK.
- National Infrastructure Commission call for evidence.
- National Infrastructure Plan.
- National Infrastructure Pipeline.
- National Infrastructure Plan for Skills.
- National Needs Assessment NNA.
- Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.
- Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016-17.
- Overcoming the challenges of Brexit.
- The Royal Town Planning Institute comments on infrastructure assessment requirements.
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