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Growth held back by overreliance on infrastructure appraisal process say planners

15 January 2014

Infrastructure PaperInfrastructure projects which could deliver land for housing and for employment activities are held back because they do not pass narrowly-focused appraisals processes and do not make the full use of the skills planners, says the Royal Town Planning Institute, in a new report on transport infrastructure published today.

The RTPI’s report, Capturing the Wider Benefits of Investment in Transport Infrastructure [PDF], says that transport infrastructure, uniquely, has the ability to open up previously undevelopable land which can then be used for housing and provide new opportunities for employment activity, but because this is rarely an immediate consequence and the benefits are difficult to quantify, it is not fully accounted for in cost-benefit analyses. The result has been that too few infrastructure projects which could have acted as a catalyst to growth have been approved.

Dr Peter Geraghty, President of the RTPI, said: “Many of us face on a daily basis the consequences of an historic underspend on infrastructure. Our report highlights an overreliance on narrowly-focused cost benefit analysis as being one of the reasons for too little infrastructure investment.

Cost-benefit analysis has a valuable role in project management but it should not be the deciding factor in whether a project is viable, ignoring the wider benefits that transport infrastructure investment brings to the country. Project appraisals focusing on shortened journey times miss the big picture that transport infrastructure makes previously undevelopable land viable, and helps maximise the opportunities for underdeveloped land. Shortened journey times are a welcome benefit of investment in transport infrastructure but they shouldn’t necessarily be the sole or even the main justification for it.”

The report also emphasises the need for transport infrastructure to be planned alongside other strategic priorities such as housing and employment activities. Well planned transport infrastructure should be built with regard for the wider societal and economic benefits that it can bring, and take into account land that potentially could be made available for development that is currently inaccessible.

Dr Geraghty added: “The UK needs greater use of strategic and integrated planning in guiding decisions about transport infrastructure provision.”

Recommendations

The RTPI’s report, Capturing the Wider Benefits of Investment in Transport Infrastructure, makes seven key recommendations to Government, policy makers and professionals:

  • Policy-makers need to deliver a visionary narrative of the real benefits that transport infrastructure-led schemes.
  • Governments need to operate in a way than enables transport infrastructure schemes to be integrated with wider policy priorities across different sectors.
  • Individual schemes are integrated into broader strategies for transport at national, sub-regional and local level.
  • There must be greater cooperation amongst key delivery partners and their stakeholders.
  • Revolving funds, in combination with strong public sector leadership, can help deliver infrastructure-led development.
  • Governments needs to devolve funding mechanisms, including better systems of cost recovery, to local areas looking to implement viable, transport infrastructure-led schemes.
  • Policy makers, including local and national leaders, must only use limited cost benefit analysis as a guide to infrastructure investment decisions and not as the final arbiter.

The report is the second in a series produced by the RTPI tacking with the significant issues that face the UK today and follows last year’s publication, Delivering Large Scale Housing.

Download the report

Capturing the Wider Benefits of Investment in Transport Infrastructure [PDF]

Visit the RTPI policy page on the report.