The Department for Infrastructure has published a report presenting the findings of an independent Ministerial Advisory Panel on Infrastructure, which was established in late August 2020 by Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon MLA. The primary aim was to consider how an Infrastructure Commission for Northern Ireland might support the long-term planning and development of relevant infrastructure here.
The report considers infrastructure in the context of climate change, Brexit, COVID-19, and the need for a green recovery. The panel concluded by recommending the establishment of an Infrastructure Commission in Northern Ireland as soon as is practical (prior to 2022 Elections).
The report identified a number of issues with the current approach to infrastructure which were summarised as follows:
- Strategic infrastructure projects frequently suffer time delay and cost overruns
- Over-reliance on the Barnett funding allocation to fund our public infrastructure is stifling growth andinnovation
- Crucial parts of our infrastructure are at a critical point and there is clear evidence that this is having a negative impact on other major investment decisions
- We struggle to see beyond our political and financial timeframes which, by their nature, are too short term for effective infrastructure planning
- Our neighbours on these islands have ambitious infrastructure plans for the next 20-30 years
- Lack of longer-term planning and appropriate market management often results in legal challengeswhich cause major delays
- The population of NI is projected to increase by 8% by 2041, with the 65+ age brackets increasing to 25% of the population. There is little evidence that we are planning sufficiently for this demographic change
- The current system operates in silos with limited co-operation between central and local government, and with the private sector
- There is a general failure to identify potential synergies to collaborate or secure economies of scale by working more closely together within NI, or with other bodies outside NI facing up to these very same challenges
- We are lagging behind in terms of our environmental performance, and urgently need a step change to address climate change and meet our ambitions in respect of the wider UK 2050 net zero targets
- There is a regional imbalance and urban-rural divide in terms of infrastructure provision. This needs to be addressed to ensure inclusive growth and to improve the quality of life and wellbeing for everyone in NI
- External factors such as COVID-19, Climate Change and Brexit are dramatically impacting the economic landscape of NI (and will continue to do so for years to come); we must ensure we are nimble, able to capitalise on the growth opportunities that will arise
The Panel will work with the Minister to agree the appropriate next steps to inform the wider NI Executive and key stakeholders interested in the evidence findings. Consultees had indicated their willingness to engage and support the Executive in exploring the recommendations of the report further.