Civil engineers continue to highlight devolution benefits for Harlow

Politics / Wed 29th Jun 2016 pm30 01:08pm

PLACING infrastructure improvements at the heart of the devolution agenda could significantly boost local growth, environmental sustainability and quality of life – and with the right investment, frameworks and skills Combined Authorities can realise these full benefits, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) East of England.

In its State of the Nation: Devolution report, the leading engineering body backed Government’s effort to rebalance the economy and the focus on infrastructure as the key driver. It also welcomed agreement on a proposal to develop two Combined Authorities in the region, subject to endorsement from local councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships, and a public consultation.

ICE however set out some improvements to the arrangements for any emerging authorities, which it said could further equip them in delivering the maximum benefits of devolution to society. In a 10 point plan it called 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 any wider economic area established in the future, so money is directed towards the right projects.

ICE also recommended that all new devolution proposals clearly set out how they will improve environmental sustainability and quality of life, as well as drive growth, claiming a more integrated approach would lead to broader benefits and could help to garner more public support for devolution.

State of the Nation: Devolution Steering Group Chair and ICE Vice President, Adrian Coy, said: “The benefits of effective infrastructure in the East of England are well established – it can boost economic growth, create jobs, regenerate communities, connect people and places and drive environmental sustainability. It provides the foundation of modern society. 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.

“Combined Authorities must now take the helm and deliver these benefits locally. This will be no mean feat, but with the right frameworks, investment and skills in place they can succeed.

“We would like to see the restrictions on Combined Authorities accessing additional financing streams lifted, so they can invest in infrastructure – and skills – that can really transform the region. While combined authorities have the will and powers, their financial means are currently limited.

“To ensure decisions on spending are strategic, an overarching regional infrastructure strategy should be developed, based on need. Midlands Connect and Transport for the North have provided greater focus for transport services in their areas and other areas can build on this success in the future, establishing a strategy covering all networks– recognising their interdependent nature. The National Needs Assessment ICE is leading, which will feed into the National Infrastructure Commission, provides a workable model.

“We would also like to see more rounded devolution proposals. Rebalancing the economy should not only be thought of in financial terms. Enriching people’s lives is not just about increasing their income but also the quality of their living environments. More integrated proposals, setting out how they will also achieve environmental and social goals, will deliver broader benefits to society.”

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