Committee calls for closer consultation with local communities over infrastructure projects
The Public Administration Select Committee of MPs has said that more effective consultation with local communities is required to enable large infrastructure projects to bring tangible socio-economic benefits.
The committee feels that consultation with communities who will be affected by infrastructure projects, for example HS2, too often occurs after major decisions have already been made. It added that feedback from local communities must be considered before funding is dedicated to projects.
The report reads: "Too often local consultation begins after fundamental decisions have already been made, leading to project delays and infrastructure that neither meets local need nor has full public support".
The Public Administration Committee’s report into the issue comes after prime minister Boris Johnson announced plans to bring forward £5 billion of spending on improving transport, broadband, hospitals and schools in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, to help kickstart an economic recovery.
This investment will be on top of a further £640 billion in planned spending on infrastructure which will be carried out over the next five years.
The report described the aims behind the government’s “levelling up” investments as “ill-defined” and called for a more up to date National Infrastructure Strategy before money is spent on new projects to avoid funds being wasted.
The committee urged the government to co-ordinate prospective projects more effectively, show greater transparency over how projects will be delivered and set clearer benchmarks for determining the socio-economic value that such projects will bring.
The report recommends that assessments of regional and local needs are carried out before future projects are given the green light, adding that funding should only be given if the findings of local consultations deem the project acceptable.
It adds that data used to assess the benefits of projects must be clearer and more widely accessible and project managers could be offered financial incentives to ensure that they recruit individuals with the correct skills to carry out projects.
The committee’s Conservative chair William Wragg called for the Treasury’s formula for assessing the benefits of projects to be changed in order to guarantee that initiatives in the North of England and rural areas are given due attention.
Wragg said: "As the nation embarks on a period of significant infrastructure spending we must focus on how much they deliver the benefits they set out to achieve and were the basis for being given the go ahead.
"Developing grand infrastructure projects must not become an end in itself. We must move away from the short-term view that measures the value of major projects in terms of whether they are finished on time and at the expected cost."
Wragg echoed the reports recommendations to rethink its means of engaging with locals, saying: "It will be critical not just to get local support for infrastructure projects, but getting local input in identifying problems and developing solutions must be better supported.”
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office commented that the government is committed to working with local communities on the delivery of major projects.
The spokesperson said: "The government is delivering a bold and ambitious portfolio of major projects, to support economic growth, decarbonise the economy and underpin the delivery of our public services.
"We are committed to working with local people, partners and across sectors to ensure that all UK citizens benefit from the delivery of infrastructure and major projects."
The construction of the HS2 rail network was finally given the green light in 2020 following years of delays, fuelled by opposition from communities living along the proposed route, as well as lobbying from environmental campaign groups. A range of other major projects including Crossrail have also been delayed.