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NIC consultation on governance, structure and operation.

This is the Freight on Rail response to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) call for evidence on its governance, structure and operation. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Freight on Rail, a partnership of the rail freight industry, the transport trade unions and Campaign for Better Transport, works to promote the economic, social and environmental benefits of rail freight to local, devolved and central Government in the UK and to the European Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers.


The commission’s approach would have to be consistent with sustainability requirements and climate change targets, it would be given the central remit of fostering ‘long term economic growth in the UK’ and maintaining the UK’s ‘international competitiveness among G20 nations’.

We believe it needs a stronger social, environmental remit otherwise short term economic gain could result in economic, environmental and social problems longer term. The consultation does not fully answer how the wider environmental issues would be addressed. Decisions on infrastructure need and what to prioritise are not simply about what kit should be placed where, but are also values based choices about what would be appropriate and their relative impacts on people and places. The governance remit must recognise that not everything that is valued by society can be priced or monetised, at least not without some heroic assumptions that are not without challenge.

The Commission should assess infrastructure need not based simply on the needs of the economy, but using a triple bottom line approach which reconciles these needs with those of the people and the planet. There should be a focus on outcomes for users with their requirements dictating what is built rather than building infrastructure for the sake of it. 

Introduction does not mention the environment and impacts of climate change, air pollution or any reference to projects meeting their external costs. The emphasis is on the economy as this is a Treasury driven policy. Any Commission should be cross-Government. It would be a mistake, we believe, to have a new commission as an adjunct to the Treasury, and would lead many to question the extent of its independence from Government. A genuine commission would consider infrastructure need in the round, and work across Government. If it would need to be linked to a Government department in particular, perhaps the Cabinet Office or Department for Communities and Local Government would be a better home.

No mention of integrating spatial, energy and transport planning for example. No mention of building infrastructure which is not creating more car dependence.

Rail should be used during construction phase of power stations, rail, road and other energy projects where possible.

We would like to draw your attention to the Australian experiences of infrastructure commission.
"Better Infrastructure Initiative" at the University of Sydney, and its first report says it should focus on improving existing infrastructure and charging users for it properly, and focusing on service outcomes rather than building big new kit. See Key quote: "A significant proportion of the services deficit could be addressed by the better use of existing infrastructure and through more scaled, targeted and feasible investments."

Detailed response on consultation including questions

2.1 Objectives and scope
The question remains what is the definition of sustainable economic growth?
2.6   The prioritization of projects should not be driven solely by economic case but should also have to study environmental and social impacts.
2.8 We agree that it is democratic for the government to decide and approve what is built.   
3.1 /3.3
It will remain difficult to provide right degree of separation from its sponsor department Treasury which defines its allocation and use of its funds.

Question 1. Do you agree that the NIC should be established as a non-departmental public body via primary legislation?
It should have broader remit than just economic growth. The priorities of the proposed commission are skewed towards economic growth, rather than having an approach which reconciles the needs of the economy with those of people and the environment.

3.5 As well as taking into account any impacts from infrastructure development on the climate Change targets set out in the Climate Change Act, it should have to take into account air quality, noise and impact on bio diversity.  
NIC should have more independence from Treasury whereas at the moment the Treasury and Chancellor have too greater influences over the proposed commission.
3.14 There should be Commissioners from the social and environmental fields which is not currently the case. If the Infrastructure Commission is to make decisions which are in the genuine long-term interests of the country, its members must represent a broad range of interests from different sectors and should be nominated by other Government departments, including Defra, DECC and DCLG. These members should be approved by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Climate Change Committee as well as by the Treasury Committee. Also it does not appear that there are representatives from the Energy sector either.
3.16 It is crucial that the NIC is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
4.2 4.4 Needs assessment must take into account environmental impacts as well as economic and social. The use of the term informed does not fully explain to what extent the Commission must abide by the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) results? There is an assumption that ‘grey infrastructure’ (roads, new buildings etc.) will always be the answer – natural, green infrastructure and demand management may sometimes be the best solution.
4.6 We support the recognition that building more infrastructure is not always the optimal way to proceed as the example of energy efficiency demonstrates.  For example building more roads, generates more road traffic (rebound effect) and can be self-defeating.

Question 2 Do you agree that the commission’s National Infrastructure Assessments should be laid before Parliament and the Government must respond within a specific timeframe?
Yes, otherwise Government could delay decisions for political reasons.

Question 3 Do you agree that it should not be mandatory for the Government to lay the recommendations from specific studies before Parliament, but that the Government should have discretion to do so where necessary?
No, recommendations should be laid before Parliament and in public domain.

Question 4 Do you agree that economic regulators should have regard to Endorsed Recommendations?
Do not know

Question 5 Do you agree that government should legislate to oblige the Commission to produce National Infrastructure Assessments once in every Parliament?

Question 6 Do you agree that the precise timing of reports and interim publications should be a matter for the commission in consultation with relevant departments?
Yes, the Commission’s remit should be independent of political considerations so that the timings for announcements on NIC’s recommendations on controversial developments such as airports, are within the remit of NIC, not the political timetable.
5.1 What is the definition of sustainable? Note that it has to work within broad remit set by Chancellor.
The NIC would need to be mindful of how legally binding targets might apply to infrastructure and the requirement set out in the climate Change Act requiring an 80 per cent reduction in emissions on 1990 levels by 2050. It also needs to explain how it could comply with theses targets.
5.5 It is welcome that there will be a strong focus on transparency but what does this actually mean for the public?
Assessment has regard to established methodologies compliant with the HM Treasury Green book. For transport projects, appraisal consistently ignores stage 1 where there should be an appraisal of what the objective is as opposed to simply planning road schemes. For example, the first 3 stages are strategic case, broad economic case and thirdly BCR. But what can happen is that all the first three stages are put together with the BCR dictating whether a scheme goes ahead.  TfL and Transport Scotland evaluate all three stages independently. The Borders railway would not have been built if the BCR alone had been used.    

Fiscal considerations

5.12 We believe that different scenario-based approach alongside forecasting is a robust mechanism.

Question 7 Do you agree that a GDP envelope would provide the most effective fiscal remit for the Commission?
No, it should be based on need. There should not be an assumption that all infrastructure is good. Social exclusion and environmental economic must be evaluated as mentioned before.
5.17 Therefore as well as round-tables with economic regulators, public representative bodies must be consulted. More thought needed to be given to public engagement in shaping priorities and individual schemes. Transport Focus should be consulted on transport schemes. 

Question 8 Do you agree that a transparency requirement should be placed on the Commission with regard to its economic remit? Yes

Question 9 Do you think that any additional constraints are necessary to deliver the Commission’s anticipated benefits to consumers.
Yes to protect the general public

Setting the remit
5.19 There must be a clear remit on providing sustainable infrastructure
Question 10 Do you agree that the remit should be set by a letter from the Chancellor on behalf of the government?
It should not be driven exclusively by economic considerations so precise social and environmental criteria should be written into the remit of the NIC.  iethe term sustainable should be defined.

How the Commission will operate
Interaction with the devolved administrations
Question 11 Do you agree that the Commission’s working assumptions should be to only review those areas of infrastructure that are the responsibility of the UK Government
Yes but cross border implications must be taken into account as well as the views of devolved authorities with relation to cross border issues.

Question 12 Do you agree that the decision of whether to accept or reject the commission’s recommendations should rest with the responsible government?
6.5 We believe that the commission should be obliged to consult with the relevant government departments.
Question 13 Should departments be obliged to accede to the commission’s requests for analysis?

Question 14 Do you agree that the legislation used to create the commission should place obligations on the relevant regulators and public bodies to share information with the commission?
Yes but the commission should also have to consult these bodies and civic society representative bodies as well as the Environment Agency.

Question 15 Should legislation also place obligations on the relevant regulators and public bodies to provide analysis for the Commission?
Yes.  Clearer spatial guidance is needed to ensure developments avoid damaging special places like National Parks and AONBs. It is not clear that the implications are for schemes comingunder Town and Country Planning Act.
Making use of the evidence base

7.14  There is a need for stronger regard to environmental issues. Therefore it is essential that commission approach should be led by not only informed by the Strategic Environmental Assessments.
Section 17 Do you agree that while additional consultation may be necessary, consultation undertaken by the commission should not be repeated by the Secretary of State when preparing a National Policy statement?
Public engagement is criticalto finding common ground between different stakeholders and making infrastructure delivery successful in the UK.As the public feels excluded from decision making, people become disengaged from policy and distrustful of the motives of those proposing and delivering it.Preventing public challenge in one forum is likely to
force it elsewhere.A strategic approach to infrastructure planning at national level,
with a civil society advisory council.

The following structures are suggested for public engagement
A. The UK needs a national infrastructure strategy that is long term and
underpinned by an evidence based assessment of needs. It should integrate all infrastructure sectors, considering both demand and supply side options, consistent with environmental objectives such as carbon budgets. We recommend the establishment of a civil society advisory council, as a formal and transparent part of the national infrastructure planning process.

B. Spatial planning at combined authority level, informed by local infrastructure dialogues
Strategic planning, accompanied by public dialogue, is needed at the combined authority level to fill the gap between national policy and local plans. As combined authorities form, we recommend that they develop infrastructure plans as part of their devolution settlement, using local public dialogue to inform and test their priorities.

C. A new body to act as an impartial facilitator of public engagement
To provide public engagement capacity, we recommend the creation of an independent body, which we have given the working title of Citizen Voice, as an impartial facilitator and a well-resourced source of engagement expertise. It would have a critical role in facilitating a rich debate around the identification of need and strategic direction. Specifically, it would facilitate the civil society advisory council and support combined authorities in running local authority infrastructure dialogues.


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