Significant boosts to local growth, quality of life and environmental sustainability could all materialise if infrastructure improvements are placed at the heart of the devolution agenda, according to new research.
A report from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has found that the focus on infrastructure is a key economic driver for devolution, as well as the creation of new Combined Authorities and transport bodies, but set out improvements to the current arrangements
ICE vice president Adrian Coy, said: “The benefits of effective infrastructure are well established - it can boost economic growth, create jobs, regenerate communities, connect people and places and drive environmental sustainability.
"It is right that infrastructure investment is the driving force behind government’s plans to rebalance the economy, and we hope to see ongoing commitment to the devolution agenda during the EU exit negotiations, so momentum is not lost."
The report laid out a 10-point plan, calling for the bodies to be granted greater access to flexible financing streams to supplement central government funding, enabling investment in infrastructure that is “transformational”, and the skills needed to deliver it.
Furthermore, ICE said an infrastructure strategy based on need should be established for every current and emerging economic area, so money is directed towards the right projects.
Regional infrastructure strategies would help progress concepts like the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine, the report added.
“To ensure decisions on spending are strategic, overarching infrastructure strategies should be developed, based on need. Midlands Connect and Transport for the North have provided greater focus for transport services and we should build on this success, establishing strategies for all networks – recognising their interdependent nature – and all wider areas as they emerge," Coy added.
Big Four consultancy firm KPMG welcomed the report, saying all the ingredients for a successful Northern Powerhouse are provided in the recommendations.
"We need Transport for the North (TfN) to be established with the power to develop, fund and implement a regional transport strategy, to deliver agreed social and economic outcomes for the region. TfN should be given clear leadership authority and accountability – taking account of the views of its constituent local authorities, but not beholden to them," said Richard Threlfall, KPMG UK head of infrastructure.
"It should be able to draw up pipelines of projects, and drive investment in the skills needed to deliver them. In short it should have both the constitutional and financial independence to act in the best interests of One North and through its transport infrastructure investment programme drive the creation of a booming single economic region."