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Beyond steel and concrete

Investment in infrastructure needs to be accompanied by wider investment in people, communities and culture

Andrew Adonis, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, joins Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor, and other Metro Mayors in Birmingham tomorrow to launch the interim National Infrastructure Plan.

Bedevilled by short-termism, low productivity and a lack of infrastructure investment, particularly outside of London, the UK, potentially, has much to gain from the more long-term approach to infrastructure heralded by this plan.

We need, however, to think boldly and holistically. Transport infrastructure is about more than reducing journey times. Housing infrastructure is about more than bricks and mortar. Cultural infrastructure is about more than the theatre stage.

Beyond the intrinsic purposes of infrastructure lurk broader, richer goals. Binding communities, not simply throwing steel and concrete together. Maximising the overall contribution to economic and social regeneration, by hitting the sweet spot that connects physical and human capital.

Culture and the creative industries are unusually effective at finding this nexus, as demonstrated in our recent toolkit. Bringing new pride to places searching for distinctive meaning. Creating decent jobs, often utilising digital technology, rather being displaced by it. Lifting people and places both in their back pockets and in their hearts.

This more ambitious approach requires strong leadership, making it welcome that the Metro Mayors are joining Adonis, that integrates the catalytic qualities of culture and the creative industries into twenty-first century industrial strategy.

Having a national infrastructure plan is to be welcomed, though it needs to be backed up with local determination and smart thinking to secure its full potential.

- Jonathan Todd, Chief Economist