‘Urgent’ change in approach needed for Scotland’s infrastructure

A major new Commission calls for all future infrastructure decisions to be based on delivery of an “inclusive” net zero carbon economy.

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The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) has presented the Scottish government with a 30-year infrastructure strategy, with an emphasis on delivering an inclusive, net zero carbon economy.

Claimed to be the first publication of its kind in Scotland, the strategy follows a period of extensive engagement with key stakeholders and organisations from across Scotland and beyond.

It sets out eight overarching themes and 23 specific recommendations for Scottish Government to consider; including:

  • Future infrastructure decisions to be based on delivery of an inclusive net zero carbon economy
  • Increased emphasis on “place-based” infrastructure
  • Maximise, broaden the use of and better maintain existing assets
  • Accelerate the decarbonisation of heat and transport
  • Develop appropriately devolved regulatory and pricing frameworks
  • Escalate and expand access to digital and technology services
  • Improve and extend public engagement to shape decision making
  • Explore options for long-term and independent infrastructure advice

Established less than a year ago to develop Scotland’s infrastructure strategy for the next 30 years, the ICS recognised net zero carbon and an inclusive growth economy as two overarching policies that were priorities on both a national and global scale.

The ICS therefore placed these priorities ‘at the heart’ of its objectives.

Although welcoming the reports ‘bold vision’, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations have warned that it must be “backed by action” from the Scottish Government – showing implementation as soon as possible.

Sally Thomas, SFHA CEO said: “Whilst the report acknowledges the good work already underway and places an emphasis on collaborative working, the recommendations are primarily aimed at the Scottish Government.

“We look forward to continuing to work with them and to influencing the next phase of this report, which will focus on how these recommendations will be achieved.”

“Across Scotland, housing associations are key drivers for place-making, creating sustainable, connected, and affordable neighbourhoods”, she said.

“However, there remains the urgent need for clarity around investment in social housing post-2021, if we are going to avoid the escalation of the crisis which already sees around 160,000 households on waiting lists.”

She added that good progress has been made with the current housing programme, but the “lack of certainty” on government investment from April of next year is already seeing housing associations suspend plans to build.

“The Scottish Government must provide the continuity for social housing providers to build and maintain great homes, in great places, for the people of Scotland”, Thomas added.

On the report, Ian Russell, chair of the ICS said: “While infrastructure investment remains a vital factor in supporting the economy and acting as an enabler to deliver effective public services, future infrastructure decisions should be based on their ability to clearly demonstrate their contribution to an inclusive, net zero carbon economy.

“We do not underestimate the nature and scale of the challenges facing future infrastructure decisions and recognise difficult decisions will need to be made.

“This will require bold and determined leadership from the Scottish government. However, this is not just a challenge for the public sector.

“Critically it is a call to everyone who plans, builds, invests in, owns, operates, regulates and, as importantly, uses Scotland’s infrastructure.

“If we can all embrace and build on the recommendations set out in this report, we can go a long way to turning an infrastructure vision for an inclusive, net zero carbon economy into a reality.”

The next stage of the ICS 18-month programme will see the commission provide guidance to the Scottish government on how best to consider the 23 recommendations set out in the strategy.

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