Covid-19 reinforces urgency for new approach to Scotland’s infrastructure

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scotland’s infrastructure, ICS
© Dnaveh

An independent, specialist body to provide strategic long-term infrastructure advice may be key to delivering Scotland’s inclusive, net-zero carbon economy

A report by the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) has made several recommendations for delivering Scotland’s infrastructure.

The key recommendations include:

  • Giving an independent, specialist body the remit to provide strategic, long-term infrastructure advice to Scottish government;
  • Enshrining the Place Principle and implementing a one public sector approach to planning and developing sustainable places; and
  • Establishing a Construction Accord to strengthen the future relationship between the public sector and the construction industry.

The ICS’s report builds on the ICS’s initial ‘Key Findings’ report published in January 2020 and follows a further period of extensive stakeholder engagement, both pre and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its focus remains the delivery of an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy, the importance of which has only been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic.

To achieve this, ICS recommends that by early 2021 an independent specialist body be given the responsibility to help prioritise the infrastructure needed to enable an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy and to develop a 30-year infrastructure strategy that is reinforced by a long-term needs assessment.

The independent body would sit outside the political decision-making system to enable it to operate in a transparent way, building confidence across the public and private sectors. This would allow the body to challenge government while also undertaking tactical public engagement to inform the long-term strategy.

ICS also recommend that Scottish Government enshrine the use by all stakeholders of the Place Principle. This would support the creation of sustainable places and help enable a “one public sector approach” to infrastructure which is central to achieving a net-zero carbon and inclusive growth economy.

Returning to a thriving construction sector

The ICS also recognises the importance of a thriving construction sector being key for the delivery of Scotland’s long-term infrastructure requirements.

While work is already underway to increase productivity and raise capability of the construction sector, ICS notes that in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity for the construction sector to strengthen its future working relationship and practice.

Ian Russell, chair of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, said: “Infrastructure has a vital role to play in the delivery of an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy and Covid-19 has amplified the need for urgent action and change for economic, social and natural infrastructure.

“The Commission is recommending that an independent, specialist body be given responsibility for providing government with strategic, long-term infrastructure advice and enshrining the place principle within planning practice.”

Other recommendations in the report include harnessing a heightened focus on digital technology.

Recognising the increasing importance of high-quality data to infrastructure assets of all types, the ICS advises that a digital data co-ordination, standards and facilitation role is established by the end of 2021 to support the development and use of data for the infrastructure sector.

Cabinet secretary for infrastructure, Michael Matheson, commented: “Infrastructure will play a critical role in the years ahead as we plan our strategic economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Commission’s Phase 1 report has already helped to shape our next five-year Infrastructure Investment Plan, details of which I look forward to announcing in September. This Plan will incorporate a response to the Commission’s Phase 1 findings.”

Ian Russell, added: “We are clear that the implementation of all of the recommendations made in our Phase 1 and Phase 2 reports – some of which we acknowledge will necessitate a fundamentally different way of prioritising, planning and delivering infrastructure investment – will make a significant contribution to the successful creation of an inclusive net-zero carbon economy.”

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