We must unlock Wales’ infrastructure potential

As we await the imminent publication of the first annual report of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, we as a sector have come together, as the Welsh Infrastructure Alliance (WIA), to take stock of the current state of the infrastructure sector in Wales and what the Commission has done for us so far.

The National Infrastructure Commission for Wales (NICW) was recently established by the Welsh Government as a non-statutory body to advise Ministers of Wales’ future infrastructure needs. This followed a lengthy period of consultation and lobbying by stakeholders and as a Welsh Infrastructure Alliance we campaigned extensively for the Commission to be established. It’s been operating for the last 12 months but let’s be clear, it’s not doing what we expected it to do and little progress seems to have been made in its first year, to the great frustration of those who work in the infrastructure sector. Nevertheless, it’s here and we still want to see it develop its role in shaping the future.

To move things along, our Alliance has developed its own report on the future of Wales’ infrastructure http://www.ceca.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/WIA-report-to-NICW-Final-Doc.pdf

It’s a short and simple report and offers some initial thoughts across a range of infrastructure “sub-sectors” such as transport, water, energy, digital connectivity, the circular economy and sustainable communities. It’s designed to stimulate dialogue both within the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales and between the Commission and stakeholders with an interest in the infrastructure sector. It also demonstrates the broad range of infrastructure knowledge across the Alliance partners and our ability to provide expert advice. It sets out, in simple terms, the current environment, some of the challenges faced within each “sub-sector”, the opportunities to meet future needs and how they could support future wellbeing and alignment with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

To make the report as inclusive as possible we recently held debates in north and south Wales to get as many views as possible. We were joined by the Chair of the Commission who responded to our report and to the views and observations of both audiences. It’s a start but the message needs to get out far and wide that we need good infrastructure to support our future.

The Commission is about to deliver its first annual report at the end of November. Progress has been much slower than we’d hoped for but we now need to kick on rapidly in 2020 so that we see real progress. As an Alliance we think we’ve given enough of a push with our report and our debates. We now need to see the Commission step up to the plate.

In an ideal world we would have more clarity and a common understanding of how we could live our lives in future – and the infrastructure we need to fulfil that vision. In reality, things are not that simple, but Wales needs that visionary thinking from a Commission that views the world from the perspective of “the art of the possible”. It’s difficult to envisage what the future will look like but by considering potential technological advances in infrastructure we know our sector has a vital role to play in supporting and enhancing our wellbeing as a nation. We can identify the opportunities to align and link up different forms of infrastructure to maximise value whichever options we go for, whether it’s linking up our digital infrastructure with improvements to our energy grid or transport network or joining up farming practices and financial support with improved water quality. And we know that our infrastructure will best support wellbeing and inclusivity when it’s well aligned with the country’s economic, social, environmental and cultural priorities with the Wellbeing of Future Generations (WFG) Act presenting us with a unique opportunity in Wales to shape our future infrastructure needs against the 7 wellbeing goals set out in the Act and the 5 ways of working. Alongside this is the imperative to create a resilient infrastructure; capable of withstanding and responding to shocks and stresses.  For example, climate change and the need to decarbonise our activities, disruptive technology with positive and negative implications, increased automation with implications for current livelihoods, demographic changes with people living longer, pursuing different lifestyles but also, in many cases, struggling with wellbeing issues. All this requires supportive yet adaptable infrastructure. And it requires a clear vision for the future to deliver it.

There are real opportunities for our communities, our economy and our environment if we unlock the potential of Welsh infrastructure. We need a clear vision for the future and we’re ready and willing to support the Commission to deliver it.

Ed Evans

Director, CECA Wales and Member of the Welsh Infrastructure Alliance

Ed Evans is a member of the Welsh Infrastructure Alliance (WIA). The WIA draws together like-minded organisations representing over 600 member companies and over 10,000 individual members from across the infrastructure sector. The Alliance sees itself as a source of advice and potential solutions to enable the delivery of “world class” infrastructure in Wales to drive our future wellbeing as a nation. It consists of a Secretariat made up of CECA Wales, ICE Cymru and ACE and other members including CEWales, CIHT, CITB Cymru, IStructE, CIWEM and CIWM.

thumbnail of WIA NICW WMail article Nov 2019