The Most Resource Efficient Economy In The World?

John-TwitchenWith the General Election looming, Copper Consultancy’s John Twitchen looks at the National Infrastructure Plan and asks, in terms of infrastructure, if it matters who wins, while explaining that the Plan really does impact our sector…

You may have noticed that there is an election looming. It doesn’t look like we should expect a landslide majority, and a workable administration may be tricky.

My question is, does it matter? Will it make a difference? I don’t think it does make a huge difference, at least when it comes to infrastructure.

Britain has a National Infrastructure Plan. The plan is funded, with £460bn committed to construct essential roads, rail, aviation, ports energy, water infrastructure etc. And the money has been announced three times; now that’s commitment!

But seriously, there is a clear path: priorities, policies and politics have all been prepared… now industry must deliver. And to deliver it must lead, which I have written about previously.

“It doesn’t cover waste/resources/recycling” I hear you say. It does. Hazardous waste is captured by the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Plan (NSIP) regime, together with larger energy recovery facilities generating over 50MW of electricity such as the replacement plant proposed in Edmonton, North London [watch it here].

The National Infrastructure Plan loosely refers to broader resource management treatment capacity requirements, referencing a £2bn pipeline (don’t worry, I’m not going there!). Facilities not captured in policy or scale terms remain within the local plan making and development control processes. However, Labour and Conservative manifestos are short on commitments around resource efficiency.

Recent Commitments:

Tories commit to continue infrastructure drive
Greens back 70% recycling and food waste ban 
Labour manifesto overlooks resource efficiency
LibDems to set statutory 70% recycling target 

But what has really caught my attention are the proposals fronted by Sir John Armitt to establish a National Infrastructure Commission. At first sight, I was concerned that the review ( was merely looking to back-pedal to the previous and short-lived Infrastructure Planning Commission, swiftly integrated into the Planning Inspectorate after the 2010 General Election and infamous “bonfire of the quangos” ( But it is not. It is in fact a bold and brilliant idea to create the drive, coordination and, critically, leadership required to deliver essential infrastructure and associated changes in society.

The Armitt review sought to understand “how the cross-party consensus that is fundamental to actually delivering upon these decisions can be forged,” and concludes that the new regime would “build momentum by holding politicians to account to produce and implement robust proposals within clear timescales.”

The (still relatively thin) details can be found here, but in short 10 areas are covered, broadly aligned with the existing National Infrastructure Plan. An important addition, in my view, is number seven – “the most resource efficient economy in the world.” Granted there’s not a lot to go on yet, but it provides a huge opportunity to focus – as a major project outcome, through a series of smaller projects, interventions and investments – on a goal that is much greater than the sum of the parts. Labour is fully behind the proposal and has committed to a timetable to implement the draft Bill as an Act of Parliament before the end of 2015.

If a National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is to deliver on its mission and, critically, on the ten cross-cutting (almost “joined-up”!) themes, it must be about more than building big shiny things. The Commission will need to be smarter, and operate in the context of delivering against a negotiated “Infrastructure Budget,” influencing and influenced by the “Money Budget” set by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) and the “Carbon Budget” set by the Committee on Climate Change.

A Commission with responsibility to deliver “the most resource efficient economy in the world” surely trumps any half-hearted, unfunded, aspirational recycling target. Right?

John Twitchen is Chief Executive of Copper Consultancy, specialist infrastructure and environmental communications consultancy.

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