In this week’s edition of our new opinion series, Sean Finlay; Chair of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Committee & Director of Geoscience Ireland discusses Irish and UK infrastructure policy.
In February 2018, the Government outlined its long-term planning and investment framework – the ‘Project Ireland 2040’ policy, and its subsequent National Development Plan 2018-2027 (NDP) – which is expected to deliver the infrastructure required for strengthened connectivity, balanced growth and development in Ireland.
Given the lifespan and ambitions of Project Ireland 2040, and the fact that the policy will progress over the lifecycle of many governments, it is pertinent that an on-going and consistent approach to project planning and delivery exists. Indeed, policies and directions of future governments will undoubtedly prioritise funding allocation – the NDP represents €116 billion of investment alone – however oversight in sustaining the delivery of critical projects up to 2040 is a necessity.
The ever-evolving global political and trade landscape will continue to present challenges and opportunities for Ireland’s small, open economy; none more immediate than the UK’s impending departure from the European Union. The UK is Ireland’s biggest trading partner and, in a post-Brexit environment, ensuring access points to each other’s regions and economies will remain paramount.
British Irish Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Policy
In November 2017, the Infrastructure Committee of the Chamber published its Policy Paper which set out the priorities to ensure efficient and sustainable trade between both Ireland and the UK. The Policy Paper advocates the development of infrastructure under the following headings:
- Projects in Ireland
- Projects within the island of Ireland
- Projects enabling Ireland-UK links
The collaboration and joined-up-thinking that is necessary in planning and delivering such high quality infrastructure will be critical to Project Ireland 2040’s success. It is apparent that proper governance; transparent reporting and assessment mechanisms; impartial, expert advice; early identification of complications; and the timely sign-off of projects should be a prerequisite. Given that these medium- to long-term plans are beyond the scope of any one Government cycle, there exists a legitimate call for an Irish equivalent to the UK’s approach to overseeing the delivery of infrastructure projects, namely the National Infrastructure Commission and its Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
UK Infrastructure Delivery
Angelyn Rowan, Deputy Chair of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Committee and Partner, Eversheds Sutherland , recently outlined how the UK manages its infrastructure delivery and detailed the two main agencies involved: the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA).
The NIC became an executive agency of HM Treasury in January 2017 to support economic growth, competitiveness and quality of life across the UK; it serves as an independent advisor to the government on economic infrastructure. Its 36-page Framework Document sets out its roles and responsibilities and ensures the issuance of a National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) once in every Parliament (the first NIA is expected in summer 2018). The NIC sets out recommendations based on its studies and views, and a monitoring report is produced annually which assesses the UK Governments progress. It is expected that the NIC’s recommendations are consistent with the Governments policy priorities as agreed at the beginning of each parliament (including a binding fiscal remit).
The IPA was established in 2016 and reports to both the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury. It acts as the UK’s centre of expertise for infrastructure and major projects; its role includes financing, delivery, oversight and assurance of government projects. It also maintains oversight of the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP) that reflects the government’s priorities.
Planning challenges arising from judicial reviews have the potential to derail Project Ireland 2040. Typified by the recent cancellation of the Apple datacentre project in Athenry, the tactics associated with the strategic use of judicial review to delay and obstruct the development of infrastructure projects is well established. Judicial review has become virtually guaranteed in the development consent process for contentious forms of infrastructure, such as renewable energy generators, transmission infrastructure, road and light rail. While High Court Practice Direction 74 centralises judicial review applications into a single list with an allocated judge in an effort to expedite decisions in these cases, the simple fact is that large, nonstrategic projects will remain mired in the courts.
In order to expedite decisions in these cases, an emerging proposal is to establish a Planning and Infrastructure Court, modelled on the Irish Commercial Court. The proposal would see all judicial review applications for infrastructure projects coming under its remit. With a dedicated complement of judges experienced in adjudicating on environmental and planning law matters, applications for judicial review and subsequent judgements could be expeditiously dealt with.
In ensuring the sustained delivery of Ireland’s 2040 ambitions and remaining competitive in a changing global economic and political landscape, the Chamber believes that an oversight mechanism to impartially assess and monitor infrastructure delivery is crucial and proposes the formation of a National Infrastructure Commission Ireland to fulfil both functions. I also believe that revisions to Ireland’s planning regime are required in order to deliver balanced growth, development and connectivity across the country. It is my intention to propose this to my colleagues on the Infrastructure Committee.
Post publication of Project 2040, the Government announced a number of oversight committees, to be located in a number of different Departments; while such coordination is welcome, a statutory basis for a single entity is considered more desirable.
Sean Finlay; Chair of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Committee & Business Development Director, Geoscience Ireland.
Sean is Director of the Geoscience Ireland business development cluster which assists 36 Irish companies in winning business overseas, and is Chair of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Committee. He has over 40 years experience in Project Management, leading multidisciplinary teams implementing mining, waste management and infrastructural projects in Ireland, Europe, Asia and Africa. Sean is a Professional Geologist and a Chartered Engineer and has served as President of the Irish Mining and Quarrying Society and as Council member of Engineers Ireland.
The views and opinions expressed by authors are their own and do not reflect the official position of the Chamber but are simply an illustration of the various opinions reflective of the diverse Chamber membership. Should you wish to contribute to the Member and Expert Series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.