Thursday, 4 December 2014

The United Kingdom Model

I recently returned from a week in the United Kingdom looking at infrastructure and urban development and the applications that may apply to the Christchurch rebuild. It was interesting to see how the United Kingdom is positioning itself with regards to infrastructure provision and the underlying messages around jobs and economic growth. Certainly jobs and economic growth are centre stage, whereas with infrastructural development there is a desire to not build new but to improve what already exists e.g. three lane motorways being turned into four lanes by using a shoulder of the motorway as a fourth lane (this is commonly known as “sweating the asset”).

There is increasing emphasis in the United Kingdom on the quality of life in the context of infrastructural development. There is a lot of talk of a “sense of place” and a “sense of amenity”. There is much more longer term planning going on over there compared to New Zealand. The Government plays a significant role in underwriting the risk gap and there is an overwhelming emphasis on privatisation (privatisation is not up for debate and is all about recycling assets and capital in the long term interests of the community). There are lessons here for Christchurch.

There is strong centralisation of funding and a lot of commonality with regard to infrastructural development across political parties. There is certainly more interplay of private players into public sector activity and infrastructure is overtly used as a catalyst for good community outcomes.

The affordable housing model is well advanced in the United Kingdom and the use of “not for profit housing associations” to underpin social housing is pervasive and effective. It was also very clear that in the United Kingdom they are not hung up about where private investment comes from e.g. there is massive investment from the Middle East and Asia which is regarded as normal.

There is a lot of hard work going on to sort out the relationship of the primary city of London and the rest of the county. There is quite an aggressive positioning with regard to just “doing stuff”. Skill shortages in London are real and are growing and it was remarkable to learn that London with a current population of 8 million is looking to be a city of 10 million by 2030. 

There are many lessons for us to learn particularly around: the focus on growth and employment, strong collaborative leadership, a good interface between private and public sectors, a close alignment between Local and Central Government, good integrated planning, funding and delivery of transport in urban development, strong ambitions, and a mature approach to foreign capital. 

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