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UK Gov should take tips from French when it comes to picking rail projects

Britain should learn from France when it comes to choosing important rail projects, a think tank has claimed.

A report published by the Institute for Government (IfG), has suggested that whilst some projects, such as Crossrail, are hugely impressive, the government could pick better projects.

The French Commission Nationale du Débat Public (CNDP) was founded in the late 1980s in a similar context to the one faced by the UK now, to ensure “public participation in the decision making processes of major infrastructure projects of national interest that present important socio-economic stakes.”

The report, ‘How to transform infrastructure decision making in the UK,’ claims that there are too many examples of inappropriate finance choices, highlighting the closure of Carillion as evidence of issues surrounding private finance deals.

It argues that whilst selected projects may meet the government’s objectives, that does not mean the objectives were right or that an alternative would not have been better.

It also states that projects should not be considered in isolation, but as part of a wider system.

HS2, for example, adds to the railway network as well as connecting with other types of transport and has implications for housing.

The think tank argues that the government must develop a cross-government infrastructure strategy in order to better prioritise projects and consider their interdependencies, and that parliament must provide a robust scrutiny of government plans.

Whilst ministers are more likely to approve a project if there is high quality evidence, the report states that failures such as the rail electrification programme demonstrate how badly things can go wrong in the absence of thorough analysis.

The report recommends that the government creates an infrastructure strategy for the whole country, improves the way it uses cost benefit analysis and develop evidence for finance options.

It also calls on the government to establish a Commission for Public Engagement to involve local communities in major projects and to give the National Infrastructure Commission greater independence.

Nick Davies, associate director of the IfG, said that the UK “desperately needs” an infrastructure strategy in order to address regional inequalities.

“But the government’s decision-making process remains short-sighted and major infrastructure projects cost the taxpayer more than they should,” he commented.

“While the UK needs to invest more in infrastructure, investments must be made wisely.

“Picking the most cost-effective options at every stage – from project selection to finance option – is critical.”

Top image: majorosl

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Colin Sworder   07/02/2018 at 11:49

We already have the NIC. Instead of creating yet another quango, the EWR (and others) model of collaboration between Local Authorities, Network Rail, TOCs and supply chain is proving effective.

Jimbo   08/02/2018 at 15:54

I do wonder if the authors of this report realise that the NIC already exists. Perhaps they started this before the NIC was created! Whilst the choices made about infrastructure projects may not be the best choices, this is down to our political structure, planning systems, funding mechanisms and British culture, rather than the lack of a strategic planning body. Simplification of the processes, not more planning, is the answer to better and more efficient infrastructure projects.

Sonning Cutting   09/02/2018 at 19:54

The French are lucky in having cross-party agreement on how to run their railways. I fear we will never enjoy their approach whilst decisions in this country are made based on what is good for the party than rather what is good for the country . The incumbent idealogues in the DFT are even worse than their predecessors. After all they know they won't be around to take the blame.

John Gilbert   22/02/2018 at 16:19

I agree with 'Sonning Cutting"! One might point out that the French have opened over 25 NEW tramway system since 1985 whereas in the 'magnificent' UK we have managed just 5!! We may not always agree with the French, but by golly, they get things done - mainly because they WANT them to be done and there is no Luddite political and civil servant lobby dragging everything back!

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