UK’s civil engineers want new bank to lure private capital

In a manifesto published today, the Institution of Civil Engineers has urged the British government not to respond to financial pressures by sidelining essential infrastructure projects. It says a new national infrastructure bank would help attract private sources of funding.

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), a professional body representing the interests of civil engineers in the UK, has today published a manifesto emphasising its support for the establishment of a National Infrastructure Investment Bank (NIIB) as a way of attracting “the large volumes of private capital” that ICE says will be necessary to fund essential infrastructure projects.

In its “Manifesto for UK Infrastructure”, ICE notes the conflict between the “enormous pressure on public finances” on the one hand, and the need for £400 billion to be spent on new and refurbished infrastructure by 2020 (source: Policy Exchange). It says that the concept of an NIIB is supported by the Liberal Democrats – the UK’s ‘third party’ – former EU transport commissioner Lord Neil Kinnock, author/economist Will Hutton and right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange.

ICE says it is “vital” that existing projects such as Crossrail, the Thames Tideway tunnels and a new nuclear energy programme go ahead in spite of the tight public finances in order to “underpin economic recovery and drive a low carbon agenda”. It adds that feasibility studies for proposals such as the Severn tidal project and high-speed rail links to Scotland must be taken forward.

The manifesto expresses its support of the recently launched Infrastructure UK, which was established by the UK government to look at all aspects of infrastructure in the UK with a particular focus on private sector investment. However, it also says that “the effectiveness of initiatives such as Infrastructure UK, the National Policy Statements and the recently appointed Chief Construction Adviser will depend on the generation of new and innovative ways to fund the much-needed infrastructure – ongoing barriers to private investment must be addressed”.

ICE also calls for a “substantial” increase in gas storage capacity in the UK, which has one-eighth the storage capacity of the US and one-sixth that of France. A Reuters report earlier in the week noted that a lack of available sites and the lack of a favourable regulatory regime meant that non- strategic financial investors were finding it hard to secure assets that are theoretically attractive because of their steady, long-term cash flows.