Former Conservative transport minister Stephen Hammond has called for a Department for Infrastructure to help improve project delivery, oversight and coordination.
Mr Hammond who was the parliamentary under secretary of state for transport from 4 September 2012 to 15 July 2014, states there is a need for radical change as there remains a concern that strategic infrastructure decision-making is too often short-sighted.
Writing for the Conservative Home website, Mr Hammond argues that the department could be created by amalgamating responsibilities from the transport, climate change, environment, Treasury, communities, local government, and business departments.
‘The new department would not be established for administrative convenience, but would ensure coherence and excellence in a key Government objective,’ Mr Hammond states, suggesting for instance 'the interlinking nature of transport, housing, power, and broadband could be taken into greater account when making decisions’.
‘That government is weak in project management and procurement skills is widely recognised. Project oversight has all too often been characterised by indecision and delay, with continual redesign leading to cost increases and delay rather than “on time and on budget”, for example,' he states.
'A new department would allow for better procurement and potential savings through the outsourcing of programme management that would benefit from central management. Equally, if government has a direct role in delivery, project management would be improved for exactly the same reason.'
Other benefits the department could provide include stimulating ‘a better consultation and engagement process with local residents, interest groups, and experts, removing cynicism and reducing delays’, providing oversight for the strategic decision-making authority for national infrastructure decisions and appeals and providing a better assessment of the impact of likely technological advances on infrastructure projects.
Mr Hammond cites the example of advances in cars, including driverless cars: ‘The potential rise of the smart car will cause a reassessment of the capacity of our road network and whether air pollution restrictions might be more easily complied with. The same also applies to cultural shifts, such as the possible impact on peak time travel of growing self-employment.’
Following the Armitt review in 2013, the Labour Party has called for an independent national infrastructure commission to ensure continuity of major projects over a generation.