Time is right for independent NI infrastructure body

If ever there was a time for change, it’s now, as we begin to emerge and recover from this pandemic.

By Nichola Mallon
Friday, 9th July 2021, 12:40 pm
Nichola Mallon
Nichola Mallon

We are at a crossroads. We can go back to doing everything exactly the same as we did before, and the crises in the health service, housing, special educational needs and the climate emergency will only deepen. Or we can do things differently and better.

The Department for Infrastructure has a huge role to play in enabling change and transformation, and in particular helping us live and work sustainably, develop and grow a regionally-balanced green economy, and make Northern Ireland a place in which people want to live, work, and visit.

The key to unlocking and delivering this economic and environmental transformation is an independent Infrastructure Commission here in Northern Ireland.

Last year, in looking at how we could do things differently and much better, I asked an independent group of experts, chaired by Kirsty McManus from the Institute of Directors, to examine the possibility and the advantages such a commission could deliver here.

This group undertook extensive analysis, considered global best practice, spoke with a number of other infrastructure authorities across these islands and beyond, and carried out extensive consultation locally, which demonstrated overwhelming support among businesses and the environmental sector for the establishment of an independent infrastructure commission.

The findings of this expert report made clear the need for a more strategic, ambitious and long term approach to the planning and development of infrastructure, one that was expert led, engaged fully with the public and did not fall victim to short term election cycles.  

The truth is we are being left behind as other places, from England to New Zealand, have recognised the advantages to be gained and have pushed on ahead to establish infrastructure commissions.

I have been making the case for this at the Executive and, as our engagement continue I remain hopeful that the Executive will soon agree to the establishment of an Infrastructure Commission for Northern Ireland.  

 I have examined the evidence presented to me by the Ministerial Advisory Panel. I have looked at best practice around the world.

To me it is simple. What we have been doing here when it comes to the long term vision, planning and delivery of critical infrastructure, be it economic, social or environmental, isn’t working.

The definition of insanity as the saying goes, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. We need game changers if we are serious and genuine about delivering cleaner, greener, sustainable and inclusive growth for everyone.

Now, more than ever, in the context of the challenges of Covid, Brexit, climate change and economic strain, investing and long-term planning for critical infrastructure has never been more important.

We need to be more ambitious and we should not be afraid of opening government up to let experts and a range of other views in.  It’s time for change. It’s time Northern Ireland had its own Independent Infrastructure Commission.

> Nichola Mallon is the Minister for Infrastructure

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