Last week saw us host at the annual Odgers Interim Project and Programme Management seminar at our Cannon Street offices in London. This year we were honoured to be joined by guest speaker Simon Wright, Programme Director at Crossrail. Simon, unsurprisingly, proved to be a big attraction and we were joined by a number of esteemed professionals who have been involved in some of the UK’s largest and most important infrastructure programmes over the last few decades.
A topic of wider debate was the potential impact that Lord Adonis, the newly appointed Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), would have on the UK’s creaking infrastructure programme. During his speech, Simon highlighted that turbulence in Westminster and inertia to spend public money continues to be a barrier, which is preventing key infrastructure projects from getting off the ground. It has taken more than 30 years for contractors to break ground on Crossrail and the debate on airport expansion has been brewing even longer. Tony Blair’s former Transport Secretary has established a ‘just get things done’ reputation and it is the hope of the Treasury that he will be able to push through some of the most important programmes on this Governments ‘to do list’. There is an immediate need to convert the debate into action and investment.
The first programmes on the agenda would likely include HS2, resolving the housing crisis, Crossrail 2 and the urgent need for airport expansion in the south east. Whilst Lord Adonis’ choice to leave the Lords front benches to lead this commission has little, if not any, political significance, he must now operate independently to help ensure that politics are no longer a hindrance to the development and mobilisation of infrastructure projects.
But how much influence will this ‘non-political body’ have, and do we need to de-politicise infrastructure investment if we are to achieve the current goals? As Simon described it last week, if our Victorian forbearers had the availability of cheap money that we have – they would have rebuilt the world by now. Only time will tell if Lord Adonis will be able build a bridge across the political divide.
Kit Walker is a Senior Researcher in the Built Environment Practice for Berwick Partners.