Call for Evidence

The Commission now invites you to answer questions on a range of issues related to local infrastructure. We set out below the focus of our evidence review and invite you to answer some or all of the questions we pose in each section.

Please remember we would welcome evidence on any number of these questions and you should not feel obliged to answer all of them. You are welcome to respond from the perspective of one infrastructure sector or from the perspective of infrastructure as a whole but please make this perspective clear by giving us a summary of your background at the beginning of your evidence.

Please e-mail your responses to r.styles@leeds.ac.uk


Local Infrastructure Needs

Infrastructure is a means to an end: it is built, maintained and expanded in order to enable the functioning of society. Traditionally, infrastructure projects have been justified on their potential to deliver economic growth and reduce public health problems. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that infrastructure, and particularly local infrastructure, plays a crucial role in contributing to quality of life and particularly in addressing some of the most important social and environmental global challenges (Creutzig et al., 2016).

Rather than focusing on aggregate economic growth, cities are increasingly concerned with inclusive growth; enabling as many people as possible to contribute and benefit from economic growth (RSA, 2016). Recent inclusive growth strategies recognise the important role that infrastructure could have in enabling inclusive growth (Leeds City Council, 2017) but have thus far been unable to articulate how infrastructure contributes to inclusion. Without a better understanding of this link we might build infrastructure that could reduce, rather than increase inclusion.

The commission will examine how we identify and articulate local infrastructure needs based on a broader and more integrated understanding that reflects the values and needs of citizens as well as public and private sector organisations. It will particularly focus on how a better understanding of these needs can be used in decision making and how this might lead to radically different infrastructure solutions, including how they are identified, designed, built and financed.

We would welcome evidence on:

1. How do we identify and describe how local infrastructure contributes to quality of life?

2. How do we include outcomes relating to quality of life when describing the objectives of infrastructure strategies and projects?


Appraisal

A range of models and tools are used to support infrastructure decision making and options appraisal but they tend to be designed to answer questions about the costs and benefits of delivering a specific project. These models and tools, and the questions being asked of them, are rooted in a mainstream economic understanding of costs and benefits (Brown and Robertson, 2014). Many struggle to reflect the range of different costs and the benefits that infrastructure provides, the range of individuals and organisations that suffer those costs or receive the benefits or reflect how particular decisions relate to the needs that infrastructure may satisfy. There is a particular challenge with the appraisal of less tangible, non-monetary costs and benefits (like quality of life or community cohesion) that are often a key motivation for a particular project but which fall by the wayside as appraisal progresses.

We would welcome evidence on:

3. Are there any examples of appraisal processes that can incorporate less tangible and non-monetary costs and benefits alongside monetary metrics?

4. How are appraisal approaches relevant to the public and private sector, and at different scales, reflecting the multitude of actors responsible for local infrastructure decision making?

The commission is keen to receive evidence on alternative approaches to infrastructure appraisal and decision support that are able to address these challenges and the cross cutting issues described below.


Outcomes

Infrastructure projects often make bold claims about the benefits that will accrue to localities to justify investment or strategic support. However, this is rarely supported by evaluation of whether these benefits were actually delivered and whether the potential outcomes were captured. Conversely, more strategic infrastructure plans may be used as a tool to engage others in delivery and attract investment. This is an important function of visioning and engagement but it is difficult to understand how this vision related to projects delivered on the ground.

Many infrastructure projects create outcomes that accrue for parties other than those who funded and delivered particular projects, for example investment in household energy efficiency and reduce fuel poverty and associated costs of health and adult social care. The value of these outcomes is rarely evaluated and captured. Many perceived outcomes are related to a final infrastructure asset, which overlooks many outcomes that could be delivered from the process of infrastructure deliver, for example improvements to local democracy that could arise from more structured and consistent engagement of citizens in decision making processes.

We would welcome evidence on:

5. How can we evaluate the delivery of less tangible and non-monetary outcomes?

6. How can we understand and capture the contribution of individual projects to long-term infrastructure strategies or outcomes?

7. How can we understand and capture value that accrues to parties other than those who funded and delivered projects?

8. How can we understand and capture the outcomes that arise from the process of infrastructure delivery, such as empowering citizens and enhancing democracy?


Behaviour/Culture

The motivations and culture underpinning infrastructure decision making can vary dramatically even in groups of decision makers who are perceived to be similar (for example local authorities making decisions about energy infrastructure (Roelich et al., 2018)). This affects the articulation of needs that infrastructure is delivering; the tools and models selected to support decision making; and the evaluation of outcomes of decisions; all of which can fundamentally affect the outcome of infrastructure decisions.

We would welcome evidence on:

9. What do we know about the motivations and culture of those making decisions on infrastructure?

10. Does this affect the tools used or the interpretation of the appraisal?

11. What do we know about the motivations and culture of the public in relation to infrastructure futures?

12. Do infrastructure needs differ by area/group of people?

13. Do people weigh/interpret outcomes differently and how do we capture this in appraisal processes?

14. How do we achieve outcomes that are dependent on behaviour change, rather than just physical change?


Systemic Thinking

Infrastructure is more accurately perceived as a set of (overlapping and interacting) systems than as a series of discrete projects or items. For example, an electricity generation or water provision extension should be assessed from the vantage point of its operation within the overall electricity or water network both of which will in turn interact with each other directly (e.g. electricity is required to pump water, and water is required to cool power stations) and indirectly with other infrastructure networks via the spread and location of population hubs. This implies that project-based appraisal is inadequate (Brown and Robertson, 2014). The LIC will investigate alternative forms of analysis that can account for the interdependencies across different infrastructure sectors and actors, avoiding a ‘silo-based’ approach to valuation.

We would welcome evidence on:

15. What alternative forms of appraisal of schemes and analysis of impacts are available that can account for the interdependencies across different infrastructure sectors and actors and to avoid a ‘silo-based’ approach?

16. What benefits, efficiencies or savings can be accrued from infrastructure projects being planned as wider programmes rather than isolated projects?


Long Term Thinking

Rethinking infrastructure requires thinking about changes that will occur over long periods of time and that will be subject to significant risks and uncertainties. Effective long-term thinking is needed to build resilience to unforeseen adverse events but also to exploit opportunities and innovation. The capacity to make decisions in the long-term and in the face of this uncertainty is lacking in both the public and private sector. The House of Commons Public Administration Select committee goes as far as to say “there is no comprehensive understanding across Government as a whole of the future risks and challenges facing the UK” (House of Commons, 2015). This is being addressed to some extent by the National Infrastructure Commission, but there is still a lack of capacity and action planning at the local scale.

We would welcome evidence on:

17. How could we increase the capacity to analyse, assess and plan for the future at a local scale and how could we use this better to underpin far-reaching decisions on systemic issues such as infrastructure?

18. Are there any local infrastructure plans in the UK or overseas that have demonstrated effective planning for the future?

19. How might local infrastructure needs change in the future?

20. How do we manage uncertainty in the appraisal process?

21. How do we balance achieving outcomes that are important now against outcomes that will be important in the future?


The Public

When considering infrastructure, the broader needs of the public are poorly understood (Green Alliance, 2015), which is problematic, given infrastructure’s importance in enabling the functioning of society. The public recognises that the way infrastructure is developed and used needs to change but want this change to happen in a way that aligns with public values (Parkhill et al., 2013).  Greater public debate is needed to explore these values in more detail and engage the public in defining infrastructure needs and outcomes. This means that infrastructure solutions would not only be more acceptable but could also improve their quality and likelihood of contribution to crucial local outcomes.

We would welcome evidence on:

22. What methods can we use for engaging the public and accounting for their preferences and priorities in infrastructure decision making at a strategic and project scale?

23. How can we use knowledge from the public in appraisal processes?


Scale

Infrastructure’s systemic and networked nature means that the benefits it delivers do not accrue neatly at a particular geographic or institutional scale. The needs of those in a particular place may be met by infrastructure controlled at several different scales, including community, local authority, water catchment, region and nation. It is not often clear how these needs are understood and reflected at other scales’ decision making processes. The appraisal processes themselves may operate differently at different scales which may lead to outcomes that are fractured and difficult to rationalise locally.

We would welcome evidence on:

24. How does decision making interact between different scales of decision maker?

25. How are local priorities reflected in national decision making processes?


Vision

A coherent but transformative vision of what we want, or do not want, for infrastructure can be a powerful driver of change. If this vision is shared and provides a clearly articulated set of goals and guiding targets, it can motivate stakeholders to commit themselves to action that brings that vision about (van der Voorn et al 2017).

We would welcome evidence on:

26. To what extent are infrastructure visions inclusive and transformative but clearly translated into goals and guiding targets? Are there any examples where this balance has been achieved?


Finance

Finance is frequently cited as a major challenge of infrastructure investment. Described in its simplest form, project finance requires an initial source of funding to invest in a project, a source of income to repay that funding (either directly using monetary income or indirectly by achieving outcomes, like jobs or economic growth for example, specified by the funder) and a mechanism for calculating and collecting income to enable those repayments (financing). There are many ways of financing infrastructure projects (some less favourable than others in terms of repayment terms and levels of interest etc). However, raising and repaying funding remains a significant challenge for infrastructure projects. Some projects are unlikely to generate monetary income directly because we don’t charge for the services (like flood protection) that they provide, meaning that the direct repayment of funding is difficult. Traditionally, some funders have been willing to invest in projects that deliver indirect economic benefits, such as jobs and economic growth. However, where indirect benefits are social and environmental, rather than economic, they are far more difficult to quantify. Innovation and creative thinking is required where benefits are less tangible and more long-term.

We would welcome evidence on:

27. What innovative forms of financing could better capture less tangible and long-term benefits of infrastructure projects to repay funding?


Please remember we would welcome evidence on any number of these questions and you should not feel obliged to answer all of them. You are welcome to respond from the perspective of one infrastructure sector or from the perspective of infrastructure as a whole but please make this perspective clear by giving us a summary of your background at the beginning of your evidence.

Please e-mail your responses to r.styles@leeds.ac.uk