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Reflections on the National Networks National Policy Statement

12 May 2014

Last week the House of Commons Transport Select Committee published its Report on the Government’s National Networks National Policy Statement (NN NPS), following a call for evidence last month, to which the RTPI responded.

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The Committee’s report is critical of many aspects of the National Policy Statement, partially alluding to some of the vigorous campaigns that have been led against the Government’s  approach to new roads policy, which some have deemed as being a regressive return to previous models of ‘predict and provide’ development. In this regard, the Committee has expressed concerns that the policy fails to take account of wider environmental impacts of development, potential alternative policies for traffic demand management, and the fact that many of the forecasting methodologies for future traffic flows are criticised as outdated.

While these arguments are sound in themselves, the RTPI is concerned that for some time now, the debate surrounding the NPS has been split between specious proclamations of the requirement for more roads on the one hand, and a reactionary rejection of the policy on sustainability grounds on the other, thus taking a direction of discussion which risks overshadowing a crucial and required conversation about what good infrastructure planning actually looks like in the UK.

The RTPI believes

The RTPI believes that strategically planned transport infrastructure has an important and significant role to play in developing sustainable, thriving communities, where individuals have good access to employment, housing and leisure. In our latest policy paper, ‘Capturing the Wider Benefits of Investment in Infrastructure’, we set out how we believe that ambitious and proactive infrastructure investment can achieve these goals.

For this reason, we were very pleased to see the Committee’s Report directly referencing and building recommendations upon our submitted evidence. In fact, the Report references the RTPI’s submission for its “most important” recommendation, in which it calls for the NPS to be specific about the types of infrastructure which the Government thinks should be prioritised and promoted. In the RTPI’s view, providing a more specific policy on what types of transport infrastructure we want to develop in this country will be the first step to developing and then delivering a spatially driven strategy identifying what purposes and goals we want transport infrastructure to achieve and how it will do this.

The Government should therefore support and work with the planning community to positively shape the future of our conurbations, deriving a spatial picture of our national and local infrastructure requirements from an assessment of the key challenges faced by places, including unemployment and the housing crisis, and thus utilising infrastructure as a key policy tool to tackle these priorities.

Ultimately

Ultimately, there is no need for polarisation in this debate. There is in fact an excluded middle which cuts between development for development’s sake, and the need to prioritise the environment over all other interests. It is achieved through the considered development of strategic plans, which outline the infrastructure required to ensure both environmentally and economically sustainable growth. In essence, both the assurance of sustainable and environmentally considerate development of our conurbations, and the assurance of their economic vitality and growth potential, requires the strategic and conjoined planning of infrastructure and places.

David Pendlebury is Policy and Networks Adviser at the RTPI and is the policy lead within the areas of major transport and infrastructure planning. His other interests include macroeconomics, international affairs, and public sector finance. Before joining the RTPI, David worked in public affairs in Brussels and also as an analyst within the management consulting industry