Labour peer hopes to get Britain building

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Lord Adonis has been tasked with ensuring Britain’s construction sector grows and will head up a new commission designed to meet that aim. Planning and Building Control Today discusses…

Construction has formed a significant part of the government’s drive for economic success during this parliament and indeed the last. A chronic shortage of homes has pushed construction demand sky-high, increasing the average cost of property to the realm of unattainable for a whole generation.

Since taking office, the government has tried to meet its target to build droves of new homes. Last month, ministers said they would step up efforts after it was revealed there was a huge shortfall on the expected number of new builds.

Now, in a bid to get the nation building again the government has revealed it has appointed a Labour heavyweight to oversee and push construction growth across Britain.

Lord Andrew Adonis, a former Labour cabinet minister, will head an independent National Infrastructure Commission, aimed at shaking up the sector. Lord Adonis has a long history in politics, serving under both Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s administrations. He will now quit his role as Labour whip and will instead take up position as a crossbencher in the House of Lords.

It is expected the foundations of the commission’s task will be undertaken immediately, with work expected to focus on improving transport links in the Northern Powerhouse region.

Additionally, Lord Adonis will focus on developing power storage that will meet the needs of the modern day.

The commission will produce a report at the start of each parliament, which will outline major infrastructure and building projects that should be the focus for the government in power. The commission will mirror the Airports Commission, which is led by Sir Howard Davies.

Speaking during the Conservative party conference, Chancellor George Osborne said the commission was necessary to “shake Britain out of its inertia” and to force the nation to make big decisions on infrastructure.

He said: “Britain has really got to raise its game in getting these big projects under way.”

But is Lord Adonis the right man for the job?

He certainly has the right experience. Under Gordon Brown’s administration he was Minister of State for Transport before taking a seat on the Cabinet as Transport Secretary. He joined the board of the HS2 project in July and has played a significant role in developing plans for the major infrastructure scheme. Additionally, he is an attractive choice due to his former allegiance to the Labour party. This distances the commission from the government and will enable it to remain independent.

Lord Adonis said it was important to remember most infrastructure projects lasted years, while governments changed with more frequency.

“Major infrastructure projects like Crossrail and building major new power stations span governments and Parliaments.

“I hope it will be possible to forge a wide measure of agreement across society and politics on key infrastructure requirements for the next 20 to 30 years.”

John Cridland, director-general of business group the CBI welcomed the decision to create the commission. He said: “Updating the UK’s infrastructure is critical to sustainable growth and productivity, and we’ve long called for an independent body to assess our long-term needs.”

In a bid to make it easier for the construction sector to undertake projects, the government removed much of the red tape surrounding planning laws. There is no doubt this is an administration that wants to drive construction, but it is also facing some incredible challenges. Supplies and skills shortages continue to dog the sector, with the latter in particular remaining a significant problem despite the growth of apprenticeship schemes. Without the right skilled workers it is unlikely infrastructure and building projects will flourish.

It certainly will be a difficult task to get the nation building. Although much of the sector is seeing growth, which is undoubtedly positive, there are still challenges to overcome.

The creation of this commission certainly highlights the government’s commitment to strengthening infrastructure and housebuilding across the nation—and this can only be a good thing for the construction industry. However, unless shortfalls in other areas are addressed the challenges will remain. It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how Lord Adonis will shake things up.

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