Britain’s new infrastructure tsar Sir John Armitt on costs, consequences and staying clear of Twitter. Britain’s ambitious plan to expand its airport capacity has dragged on for a decade. The first new nuclear plant in a generation at Hinkley Point C has taken a similarly arduous journey. Meanwhile, the timetables for the HS2 and Crossrail 2 projects are in peril. The NIC’s first major report on government’s progress condemned ministers for bungling key decisions and warned that a parliamentary vote on Heathrow must be taken this summer. Rail plans must emerge by the end of the year. But there is a wider problem in the infrastructure debate, involving a new kind of conversation about cost and consequence. Armitt says there are some key messages that he has been carrying to people for the last few years: “Firstly, the need for professions who deliver infrastructure to realise that if they want their work to be accepted they have to get out there and explain, in words that are plain English, what it is about and why it is necessary.” The chief example of this can be seen in the energy debate. “If we really want to have a better life and a cleaner society then we can’t shy away from our carbon objectives – and that has a price,” says Armitt, using Britain’s contentious energy transition away from fossil fuels as a prime example of the cost debate. Ministers insist that their “green taxes” are leading to lower bills due to better efficiency, while energy suppliers say decarbonising comes at a price. “It is a sad thing about politics, isn’t it? The short-termism. At the end of the day ministers know they have an election coming two or three years down the line and will be remembered by what costs went up and which went down,” Armitt muses. Just as well the NIC is in the hands of a Twitter-shy technocrat then.
Telegraph 17th Feb 2018 read more »