Infrastructure Commission for Scotland publishes first report into the future of infrastructure

United Kingdom

The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) has published the first in a series of reports into the future of infrastructure within Scotland. The ICS, established in early 2019 after the release of the Scottish Government Infrastructure Investment Briefing, is tasked with providing independently informed advice on the nation’s vision, ambition and priorities to create a 30 year infrastructure strategy in order to meet Scotland’s future economic growth and societal needs.

This first report sets out a 30 year vision for infrastructure investment which spans both economic and social infrastructure including transport, energy, telecoms, water, waste, flood defences, housing, education, health, justice and culture. Scotland’s natural assets are also incorporated into their definition of infrastructure. The Phase 2 report is expected in June 2020 and will look at the practical considerations as to “how” future infrastructure will be delivered in Scotland.

In consulting with over 1,000 key stakeholders, organisations and members of the public, the Commission has highlighted 23 key recommendations, grouped into 8 core themes for the Scottish Government to consider in determining the future of infrastructure development within Scotland. Achieving a net zero carbon economy and delivering inclusive economic growth are the core objectives underpinning the recommendations (ICS Objectives). This marks a departure from the long-established policy of utilising infrastructure investment and development to maximise gross domestic product (GDP) for Scotland.

The ICS’s 8 key recommendations are discussed below, the report can be viewed in full here.

  1. Leadership and promoting ICS Objectives
  2. The ICS recommends that all future Scottish Government funded projects included within the upcoming Infrastructure Investment Plan for 2020 (IPP 2020) prioritise and deliver the net zero carbon economy and inclusive economic outcomes. Further to this, by 2021, an infrastructure assessment framework and methodology should be developed that allows macro infrastructure investment decisions to be prioritised having regard to their contribution to the overarching ICS Objectives.

  3. Place-based infrastructure
  4. The ICS, on consulting with various stakeholders highlights housing as a key area in the promotion of inclusion. To further this, the ICS has explored the need for the Scottish Government to undertake a “clear long term, coherent national Housing Needs and Demand Assessment” (HNDA). Currently, HNDAs are undertaken only by local authorities. The ICS considers that the assessments carried out both at regional and national level would help to deliver the ICS Objectives. Secondly, the ICS has expressed its support for the implementation of an Infrastructure First approach to planning whereby infrastructure providers, developers and other public bodies are engaged to deliver a coherent approach to planning spatial land use.

  5. Maximising, maintaining and enhancing existing assets
  6. The ICS highlights that investment decision making is currently fragmented and sector led. When considering the various public sector departments (schools, health centres, police and fire stations and prisons), there are around 3,700 individual infrastructure assets, with many largely serving only one purpose. The ICS highlights the potential benefits of resource sharing and developing asset management strategies that favour enhancing, re-purposing or maintaining existing assets on the understanding that building new infrastructure is not always the most appropriate decision. To further facilitate this, the ICS advocates a presumption against like for like replacement in favour of multi-use/shared facilities, which would require better collaboration among procuring bodies.

  7. Accelerating and decarbonising heat and transport infrastructure
  8. The Scottish Government’s target of achieving net zero carbon by 2045 is a strong and consistent theme throughout the report.

    The ICS recommends legislation be augmented to accelerate the development and implementation of incentives, support mechanisms and energy efficiency standards while ensuring that all property owners are fully engaged with any proposed changes. In transportation, the ICS accepts that renewable alternatives to petrol/diesel cars, buses and commercial goods vehicles are in their early stages and at present require significant development. However, all potentially have implications for the type of infrastructure that will be required in the future, such as overhead/subsurface charging facilities or hydrogen refill points. The ICS recommends the Scottish Government, local authorities, regulators and wider industry should collaborate to establish a route map towards achieving net zero carbon.

  9. Devolved regulation development
  10. Regulation is highlighted as being essential to delivering the ICS’s 30-year vision. The ICS recommends that Scottish and UK Governments work together in developing a devolved regulatory and pricing framework that enables energy and telecoms infrastructure investment to be planned in a way that futureproofs the needs of Scotland.

  11. Digital and technology
  12. The ICS recommends priority be given to ensuring that Scotland has a full fibre network by 2027 to ensure that “every citizen, organisation and business in Scotland has an ability to access digital public services, undertake trade and commerce”. Infrastructure should also be put in place for the transition to the next generation 5G wireless network, which will improve connectivity and speed for remote access.

    On the data resilience front, the ICS recommends a Scottish central data centre be created and investment in international fibre optic cables to facilitate low latency communication with the rest of the world as currently all digital data traffic is via a single cable located in London.

  13. Public engagement and behavioural change
  14. Achieving an inclusive net zero carbon economy over the next 30 years will be challenging and certain trade off decisions will have to be made. The ICS highlights that both institutional change from service providers and behavioural change from the public will be required. The ICS recommends that Scottish Government should by 2022 have in place “the capacity and capability requirements for an informed approach to public engagement and participation”, ensuring that where trade-offs are made, they are “effectively debated, understood and taken into consideration”.

  15. Independent long-term advice
  16. The final core theme considered by the ICS is the short termism of political decision making against the long-term nature of infrastructure planning and delivery. The ICS advocates the creation of a body responsible for providing “independent long-term evidence-based advice to Scottish Ministers on investment decisions for social, economic and natural infrastructure”.

Summary

The ICS has made 23 ambitious recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider ahead of its IPP 2020, to what extent and detail these 23 recommendations will feature in the IPP 2020 and beyond remains an area of great interest for those in the infrastructure sector. The time is now for the Scottish Government to galvanise its efforts and ensure a co-ordinated delivery of these ambitious long-term goals.

Co-authored by Nicholas Carroll.