Fast forward a year and we all wish we had never heard of Coronavirus, BREXIT rumbles on, many commutes, mine included are unimaginably shorter and I have just finished responding to the ICE’s  consultation on the need for Treasury’s Green Book to be changed in light of the levelling up and Carbon Net Zero agenda.

At its heart the ICE consultation asks whether the Green Book should be reformed to achieve better outcomes from infrastructure investment. A question founded on the very reasonable assumption that in future the whole life costs and benefits of infrastructure spend must be spread equitably between and within the UK’s regions. The Green Book, or ‘Central Government Guidance on Appraisal and Evaluation’ concentrates on economic performance including the monetisation of social and environmental performance. The Green Book is not deficient. It and other Departmental guidance (such as DfT’s Transport appraisal Guidance) is comprehensive. It is the use of the process that needs review.

The ICE wonders if there is a need for a new ‘sixth’ case to reflect climate crisis. Our view at WSP is that the five existing cases are sufficient, it is a gap in definition at national policy level and its read through to the existing project appraisal process that needs addressing. The Government must clarify what it means by ‘levelling-up’ (and this needs to recognise that this is not just a North – South issue but an issue of equality of opportunity within and between all our regions). If we want infrastructure that addresses climate change and social inequality then we need to set the right conditions for that in National policy. That policy can then be fed through into existing guidance on appraisal elements such as the strategic and economic business cases in a way that ensures those infrastructure schemes that do most to deliver policy goals are first in the queue for funding.

Change does not need to be wholesale or radical. The introduction of simple ground level performance criteria in terms of social value added or carbon removed could stand at the front of the Strategic case as a test for schemes to proceed. Such changes need to elevate awareness and consideration of net zero and social value in the minds of would be project sponsors. Renaming the economic case to the socio-economic case might be one such rather obvious clue.

All the tools are there for infrastructure to deliver what we think are Government’s aims for infrastructure. What is lacking are the detailed signposts to ensure the right schemes come forward. At WSP we understand that old adage that nature abhors a vacuum and so have introduced our own commitments to halve the carbon footprints of our designs and advice by 2030 and bring our own operational carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. This puts us at the forefront for our sector. We could do such much more if national policy and appraisal methodology were recast to be equally ambitious.

 

Martin Heffer

11 November 2020 (St Martin’s and Armistice Days)


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