David Bainbridge, director in the planning team at Savills Oxford, takes a look at how infrastructure connects our regions and, crucially, where funding for it may come from.

“Our roads and our railways and our full-fibre cables join us together as one nation – the thigh bone connected to the hip bone, connected to the back bone, connected to the shoulder bone – but our national anatomy is creaking. Some of our organs, the cities, are congested and need relief. Some of our towns and villages, the largest part of the national body, are neglected and need attention. Some of our spine, the inter-city road and rail network, is old and needs renewal.”

This is a quote from the Prime Minister in the foreword to the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS), which was presented to Parliament alongside the spending review.

The NIS sets out the Government’s plans to deliver an ‘infrastructure revolution’ and is claimed to be the first of its kind, rooted in the expert advice of the National Infrastructure Commission.

The same body back in November 2017 published Partnering for Prosperity about how to maximise the potential of the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor as a single, knowledge-intensive cluster that competes on a global stage.

Infrastructure provision, based around movement and communication, is part of the vision for this area.  This includes completion of the East-West Rail line connecting Oxford and Cambridge, accelerating the development and construction of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, new rail services to Cowley in south east Oxford and the opening of a new station at South Cambridge.

Oxfordshire has done well to secure a £215 million growth deal with Government and more besides with additional Housing Infrastructure Funding.  Some of the projects are progressing including road schemes although one of the commitments on planning will be missed.

It was agreed under the deal that a statutory spatial plan covering all five authority areas would be adopted by the end of March 2021 but this has fallen behind and needs some momentum in order to plan for, and support, the delivery of 100,000 new homes by 2031.

The 10-point plan set out by the Prime Minister in the NIS includes commitments in areas such as renewable energy generation and carbon reduction, capture and storage. The environment is rightly close to the top of the public policy agenda with many authorities having declared climate change emergencies and important new policy emerging, such at the Environment Bill.

The Treasury’s green book contains guidance on how to appraise and evaluate policies, projects and programmes. There is a shift towards measuring investment against policy objectives and not just the economic impact which is thought will assist the levelling-up agenda.

The new Local Plan for South Oxfordshire District, including growth not capable of being provided within the control of Oxford city, is set to be adopted following the Planning Inspector’s report into the examination into the plan.

The Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy report which forms part of the evidence for the South Oxfordshire Local Plan identified a funding gap of £8.45 billion for the county to the year 2040.

Some funding for infrastructure will come forward with new development through the traditional route of planning obligations or section 106 legal agreements and some will be through payments made under the Community Infrastructure Levy.

The Government has consulted on a new National Infrastructure Levy as part of wider planning reforms which could be a flat-rate, valued-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates.

The reform to infrastructure levy has been delayed and with the Government having moved away from growth deals, the ability to secure more direct funding as a result of measures associated with the NIS will be welcome but competition could be fierce.

High worth areas such as the Oxford to Cambridge Arc and the Thames Valley are recognised as models worth following, as the PM states in his concluding remarks about the new National Infrastructure strategy.

“Infrastructure will not, of course, level up Britain on its own. We must work on skills, on research and on innovation to create new, wealth-generating clusters – new Cambridges, new Thames Valleys – across the country. But this strategy will put the calcium in our national bone structure and the collagen in our national skin tissue.”

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