Call for more public involvement with infrastructure planning

February 25 2015  

Call for more public involvement with infrastructure planning

Protracted wrangling over major infrastructure projects could be avoided if a new group was set up to help engage with members of the public, a major think tank said yesterday.

The Green Alliance proposes the creation of ‘Citizen Voice’ which would act independently to help cities and councils liaise better with local people over infrastructure planning.

Also proposed are the creation of a new civil society advisory council to test assumptions of a national strategic infrastructure plan, and the setting up of combined authority infrastructure plans to “fill the missing link” between national policy and local planning.

The Green Alliance says that the current infrastructure planning system is failing and that the public feels shut out, resulting in protest and delay on major schemes such as High Speed 2 and a proposed third runway at Heathrow.

It hopes that improving public engagement will reduce the likelihood that major schemes are delayed by protest. The group’s report ‘Opening up infrastructure planning’ was launched on Tuesday at an event in central London, at which the Shadow Infrastructure Minister Lord Adonis lent his support.

Green Alliance director Matthew Spencer said: “We can’t tackle the environmental and economic challenges of the UK without new infrastructure, but the current system of planning is broken. Protest will continue to be the biggest barrier to new energy and transport projects unless the public are given a meaningful say in what the local and national infrastructure needs are.”

Lord Adonis said yesterday: “I want to see a much more intensive process of engagement with the public that I don’t think exists at the moment, although I accept there is a deep distrust of politicians. I’m very open to the idea of some form of public facilitator as the issue we are all grappling with is how best to intensify dialogue and public consultation. There are many good suggestions in this report.”

But a senior transport policy specialist at the event told TP Weekly News: “It is a nice document, but quite idealistic – and would the general public really respond to matters of infrastructure planning? People who do complain against major transport projects tend to be seasoned campaigners. Creating a new body such as Civic Voice would take time and depends on a lot of people wanting to get involved.”

♦ Creation of a new Department for Infrastructure – the brainchild of former Transport Minister Stephen Hammond – will form the basis of a new report being launched on Thursday morning in central London, supported by the Association for Consultancy & Engineering.

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