Earlier today I read through the Welsh Governments’ Consultation on establishing a National Infrastructure Commission. There were some pretty depressing points within it that I’ll describe in a moment, however it’s worth pointing out that a body like this is long overdue so the commitment to establish one is certainly welcomed.
Having worked in the energy industry for over a decade I have experienced first hand how some of our most important infrastructure is developed without forethought to what is needed down the road. A prime example was when I was told, rather abruptly, that there was no longer any capacity within the electricity network throughout much of mid Wales for any new renewable energy schemes. In essence, no one can build anything anymore because the grid won’t be able to cope.
“How can this be?” I asked the engineers in charge of the electricity grid for much of south and mid Wales. “Can I have the contact details of the people in charge of your future strategy for the grid?”.
I was then told that they didn’t think they had anyone working on the future needs of the electricty grid for Wales. Think about that for a moment! Electric vehicles, decentralised renewable energy, domestic electrical storage, self driving cars – all of these have formed the blueprint for much of the technological advances we will be having in the coming years and, at least as far as the people I have spoken to are aware, there’s no plan in place for making sure that the grid can deliver. Without a comprehensive plan in place we are going to get more instances in which (like broadband, roads, public transport etc) large parts of Wales will be totally neglected and inequalities will rise. Not only that but we will yet again miss out on the new Green Jobs and innovations that could otherwise form part of a dynamic Welsh economy.
So I know all too well that we need to have a long term plan in place. Yet the proposals within the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, as presently described, set us up for many more missed opportunities and inequalities down the road.
The key opportunity that they have missed is that they are proposing that the remit does not include housing, schools, hospitals, training providers or indeed anything that would otherwise be delivered by local development plans. Their justification is that these aren’t needed to be included because “there are already well- established, effective arrangements for analysing the longer-term, strategic needs in these sectors”. With our poor quality housing stock, inefficient spatial design, over reliance on cars and watered down standards for efficiency these sectors are patently not being managed effectively and are presently creating a myriad of social, environmental and infrastructural problems. Equally, if what is being delivered at present were at all effective we would not be seeing the huge regional disparities and inequalities that we see across Wales.
Look, I don’t profess to know all the ins and outs of delivering the entire infrastructure Wales needs for the next 50 years (and frankly, no one does) but if we are going to deliver an intelligently designed low carbon future with the most efficient use of resources it is essential that the infrastructure vision for Wales incorporates all elements of the system – not just the big projects at one end.
A silo mentality has caused most of the problems we have with our infrastructure, and like our future we need everything to be interconnected. Hopefully, by the time the National Infrastructure Commission is set up it isn’t just a bunch of old suits talking about traditional old school concrete blocks, but rather a dynamic collection of visionary experts laying down a blueprint for a more equal and world leading Green Wales.