Infrastructure Commission left off new Bill

Uncertainty has been cast over the future of the National Infrastructure Commission after it emerged that a new Government Bill making its way through Parliament fails to mention the Commission.

The Queen’s Speech in May presented details of a new ‘Neighbourhood Planning & Infrastructure Bill’ which set out to establish the National Infrastructure Commission – led by Lord Adonis (pictured) – on an independent statutory basis.

But the so called ‘Neighbourhood Planning Bill’ which had its first reading in the House of Commons last week does not include reference to the Commission.

“Government’s decision to remove putting the National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory footing from the Planning Bill is a worrying development,” said Engineering Employers’ Federation advisor Chris Richards. “It signals the potential for further delay in assessing our future infrastructure requirements.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond was asked by the House of Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee on Thursday if it remains his intention to put the National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis.

He said: “It remains our strong intention to work with the Infrastructure Commission and to use it; to drive a new approach to infrastructure in the UK. But what we want to do right now is to look at how the Infrastructure Commission will play a role in (Government’s new) Industrial Strategy, as there will clearly be an interface (between the two).”

The Committee’s chair Lord Hollick hit back, suggesting: “That sounds like a no!” The Chancellor replied: “As with many things a new Prime Minister and Government want to look at many of the parts that we have embarked on and how they are going to work. The Industrial Strategy is an entirely new strand of Government’s policy agenda and where there are interfaces between it and pre announced policy we will need to look at how they will work properly.”

A Treasury spokesman said: “The National Infrastructure Commission has a crucial role to play in setting out the country’s infrastructure priorities and it has already made major contributions to transport and smart power through its first three reports.

“The Government’s immediate priority is to support essential planning measures so legislation for the Commission was not included in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill last week.”

Earlier in the Economic Affairs Committee session Philip Hammond signaled that while “there is a role for big strategic projects” like High Speed 2 “they are unlikely to be able to contribute to fiscal stimulus”. He added: “I am a believer in the Eddington principle that often modest, rapidly deliverable improvements can have the most impact on the road and the rail network”.