By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland
The recent commitment by the Northern Ireland Executive to establish an independent infrastructure commission was a crucial first step in delivering a new project planning regime that will catapult this region into the 21st century.
The commission that will help drive Northern Ireland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic while harnessing the potential of a greener economy, has been broadly welcomed, including by the Business Alliance.
As chair of the Ministerial Advisory Panel that considered how such a body would support the effective longer-term planning of infrastructure projects, I am keenly aware of the huge opportunity that lies ahead.
The Executive has committed to delivery within the next two years, and we must hold them to that.
As the scope and remit of the organisation is shaped over the coming months, it is imperative that we listen to the experiences of others from across the UK and around the world to better understand best practice.
As part of the panel’s consultation, we talked to investors, infrastructure companies themselves, banks and growing sectors such as technology to understand what their views were of the situation as it stands in Northern Ireland and how they’d like to see that develop.
On the back of the Executive’s pledge, the Global Infrastructure Hub, which works across the G20 nations, has already offered its support and assistance to authorities in Northern Ireland.
Closer to home, we can learn from our colleagues in other parts of the UK, many of whom we spoke to as a panel during our consultation.
Among them, Sir John Armitt, one of the UK’s most experienced figures in infrastructure and civil engineering who will be guest speaker at an IoD NI event next month.
Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission since its inception in 2015, Sir John authored the Armitt Review on long terms infrastructure planning in the UK, the recommendations of which have now broadly been adopted by government.
The Review recommended the adoption of a coherent 25-to-30-year plan that was evidence-based and had cross-party support.
Sir John will address the IoD NI Green Recovery Forum in September, for which a number of MLAs have already registered.
There is no doubt about it, the resurgence of the Northern Ireland economy will be driven not by continuing to do things the way we’ve always done, but by making radical changes that take advantage of the move to a net zero future.
As we’ve seen through the experiences of our counterparts across the UK and globally, longer team infrastructure planning can unleash a huge opportunity. Let’s grasp it.