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Opinion: NIC wants East of England leaders to have the resources to develop their own infrastructure plans – not dictate them ourselves

Opinion | By Neale Coleman, National Infrastructure Commissioner

Eastern Powerhouse chair James Palmer took aim at the National Infrastructure Commission’s recent assessment of long-term infrastructure needs for the UK on your site, saying it fails to offer anything for the East.

Neale Coleman, National Infrastructure Commissioner
Neale Coleman, National Infrastructure Commissioner

But he seems to misunderstand both the commission’s role and the power of our recommendations to unlock the potential of places to improve their infrastructure.

The NIC shares Palmer’s ambition for the East of England, and much of our report is devoted to targeting increased infrastructure investment to improve economic outcomes for regions across the whole country.

We do believe that cities play a key role in this – we are longstanding supporters of the East West Rail scheme, to remove constraints on high value growth in and around the cities of Cambridge and Oxford. We also specifically name Norwich as one of the cities which could benefit from greater transport capacity, suggesting that it should be a potential candidate for future significant government investment in public transport schemes.

But our costed recommendations to government also include improvements to regional roads – such as poor performing links along the Norfolk coast – which would see average journey times between key locations in the East of England improve.

Beyond transport, our recommendations on digital infrastructure would see a speeding up of the market-led roll out of 5G services across the country, including to rural and remote areas.

And our proposed focus on improving flood resilience would see better protection for communities across the East of England through introduction of a measurable flood resilience standard, that would ensure government investment is better targeted.

However, it is not the NIC’s job to design an infrastructure plan for the East of England. We don’t try and list specific A road or local train line schemes for Cambridgeshire or Norfolk, just as we don’t for Cumbria or Nottinghamshire. We believe local elected leaders are far better placed to do that, supported by long-term funding and the work of expert sub national transport bodies like Transport East and England's Economic Heartland.

Our assessment places a major focus on the need to devolve greater powers and funding from Westminster to local authorities, such as the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority and other local councils, so they can plan and execute local transport improvements.

Those local representatives are the people accountable to you for fixing potholes, improving your bus services and getting more public electric vehicle chargepoints in place.

Different communities across an area as vast and diverse as the East of England will inevitably have different priorities. The Commission’s blueprint for increased infrastructure investment and devolution to support properly resourced infrastructure strategies would help ensure those could be delivered, in a locally accountable way.

The commission stands ready to support the different bodies and agencies working for the benefit of the East of England – but we believe within your region is where those strategies have to be developed, owned and, crucially, delivered.

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