How London can get the infrastructure it needs – but without the bureaucracy

Lucy Haynes
London needs infrastructure (Source: Getty)
Infrastructure looms large in the life of every Londoner. Even though it’s probably not at the forefront of our minds as we check our emails and fill up the kettle each morning, we depend on quality, reliable infrastructure day in, day out.

And it’s just as important for the capital’s businesses. They need it to transport goods, connect with customers, and run their everyday operations. Quite simply, London’s firms wouldn’t be able to grow, create jobs, attract investment and compete internationally in the way they do without excellent infrastructure. But with extra strains being placed on it – the capital’s population has already passed its 1939 peak of 8.6m, and is set to grow to 11m by 2050 – our London members have highlighted infrastructure as a threat to the city’s future competitiveness in recent CBI/KPMG London Business Surveys.

So it’s good that the mayor’s long-term ambitions for the capital’s infrastructure, published in the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 today, address several of businesses’ major concerns. For any big plans to succeed, however, we must ensure that the ground is ready for them in a couple of ways.

Delivery is paramount. With 93 per cent of London businesses saying that planning acts as a barrier to building infrastructure, it’s essential that the 2050 Plan doesn’t create yet another layer of bureaucracy for companies to get through. It was good to see the mayor given more planning powers to fast-track infrastructure projects in the Budget, but we need to guard against unwarranted political intervention in the decision-making process, and ensure that City Hall is properly resourced to deliver speedy results.

World-class infrastructure requires world-class management of delivery. The London Infrastructure Delivery Board allows the capital to chart its own course, but it must neither duplicate work being done at a national level, nor create unnecessary hurdles for business. To help avoid a piecemeal approach and encourage a longer-term view, we want to see the next government announce the creation of a national infrastructure commission in its first Queen’s Speech.

A joined-up, holistic approach is fundamental when planning the next generation of infrastructure. Housing, schools and hospitals are just as important as good transport links – from railways to runways – a sustainable energy and water supply, and excellent digital connections for the economy of the future. The capital’s 11 housing zones are joining up different areas, delivering over 32,000 homes, new schools, bridges and major station upgrades. But with separate strategies for key infrastructure, there needs to be more of an all-encompassing approach to decision-making.

Private sector investment will be key to getting our infrastructure built, and the Greater London Authority (GLA) must work with the government to create the right environment to attract it. The GLA has already used innovative funding models, like the Tax Increment Financing programme on the Northern Line extension, which is a good way to support future projects. But we need to see a strong business and economic case before any decisions can be made on fiscal devolution, as it may add significant costs and complexity for firms.

It is right that we are planning ahead. Businesses now await the next stage Programme Plan, which will provide a prioritised list of infrastructure projects, backed up with a strong case for investment. London’s firms have a bright future. To make it even brighter, it’s vital we lay the right foundations for our infrastructure needs now.

Lucy Haynes is director of CBI London.