Opinion Former Article

Support for Infrastructure Minister grows

Government should seriously consider introducing a new role of Infrastructure Minister to back major projects, and pension funds would be more likely to invest in schemes if several smaller proposals were packaged together, a former Cabinet Minister has said.

Patricia Hewitt, who was Labour’s Trade & Industry Secretary from 2001 to 2005, said a new Minister would help “improve the process, transparency and level of debate” around major projects.

She added that attempts to bring more pension investment into long term infrastructure “was not always successful”. She said there is now “real potential” for taking several smaller transport schemes, which are too small for a pension fund to take on, “group them together and make a very attractive investment proposition with a bit of risk sharing”.

Patricia Hewitt was speaking at an event organised by the Institute for Government think tank yesterday. She also said that the state of roads, potholed after the recent winter, was a real concern. “If we don’t start putting serious money into road maintenance we are going to have some very serious accidents and claims hitting local authorities for many years to come.”

Alongside her at the event, former Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was asked for his thoughts on how the Airports National Policy Statement, which includes expansion of Heathrow, would fare when laid before Parliament.

“I think we have got a good chance of making progress, because of the consensus drawn up around (Sir Howard) Davies.” But he added that Heathrow still has a lot of work to do and the plans are likely to change as a result of pressures from MPs.

He defended the Government’s support of expansion at Heathrow. “The easiest thing for politicians is to put a decision off because it is too difficult and to muddle on. That is why the National Infrastructure Commission and the Davies Commission were set up to try and build that consensus.”

He added: “I like to think that attitudes to infrastructure and big projects are changing in this country. London 2012 (for the Olympic Games) was a definite deadline as to what had to be achieved and that was delivered and on time. As a country we felt proud and I think we are going to see that later this year with the opening of Crossrail.”

♦ In related news, the National Infrastructure Commission today announced the names of 16 potential leaders of the future who have been chosen to sit on a young professionals panel to help inform work going forward.

Over 500 applications were received to sit on the panel from young people in the early stages of their careers. The chosen 16 meet today at the Churchill War Rooms in London. The group will meet formally at least twice a year, work with the Commission across its activities and also develop its own ideas and recommendations for Government.

Commission chair Sir John Armitt said: “The Commission exists to identify what infrastructure the country needs up to 2050. So it’s right we give the next generation of infrastructure leaders a say in our work. I look forward to working with these young professionals, some of whom could end up designing and managing world leading infrastructure built as a result of Commission recommendations.”

Members of the Panel are:
Matthew Ball, manager, Ofgem – based in London
John Bradburn, senior consultant, Atkins – based in Manchester
Alison Caldwell, principal engineer, WSP – based in Birmingham
Laura Daniels, project lead, innovation, UK Power Networks – based in Reading
Joshua Dickerson, associate, Deetu – based in Nottingham
Jennifer Holgate, managing associate, Womble Bond Dickinson – based in Bristol
Dr Rosie Hughes, innovation and continuous improvement lead (Strategic Highways Europe), Aecom – based in Derby
Annette Jezierska, co founder, The Future Fox – based in London
Madeleine Kessler, project architect, Haptic Architects – based in London
Petra Marko, co founder, Marko & Placemakers – based in London
Henry Metcalf, graduate engineer, Peter Brett Associates – based in London
Charlotte Mitchell, associate, Quod – based in London
Christian O’Brien, engineer, Bellway Homes – based in Southampton
Martin Plant, civil engineer, SNL Lavalin Atkins – based in Surrey
Sakthy Selvakumaran, civil engineer/PhD researcher, University of Cambridge – based in Cambridge
Victor Frebault, consultant, Arup – based in London

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