Infrastructure Investment Plan & Scotland’s Built Heritage

BEFS Director, Euan Leitch, outlines how the Draft Infrastructure Investment Plan for Scotland impacts on built heritage.

The Scottish Government published the Draft Infrastructure Investment Plan for Scotland 2021/22 to 2025/26 on 24th September and while it may not immediately seem to have news for Scotland’s built heritage the principles it is proposing are worth attention.

The Government’s draft plan is responding to the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland’s recommendations, which were published in two parts, Key Findings in January and Delivery Findings in July. The Key Findings are noteworthy to many both for its wide definition of infrastructure and the attention it pays to the maintenance and reuse of Scotland’s existing infrastructure and certainly raised expectations – it is no longer about great big shiny new pieces of national kit.

The Draft Plan is framed by three priorities:

  • Enabling the transition to net zero emissions and environmental sustainability
  • Driving inclusive economic growth
  • Building resilient and sustainable places

While some of us might feel uneasy about “growth” there can be no denying that these are imperative.

The Scottish Government has taken on board the Commission’s recommendations, the definition of infrastructure being as follows (italics mine):

“The physical and technical facilities and other fundamental systems necessary for the economy to function and to enable, sustain or enhance societal living conditions. These include the networks, connections and storage relating to the enabling infrastructure of transport, energy, water, telecoms, digital and internet, to permit the ready movement of people, goods and services. They include the built environment of housing; public infrastructure such as education, health, justice and cultural facilities; safety enhancement such as waste management or flood prevention; and public services such as emergency services and resilience.”

But more interestingly is the proposal of a shift in investment priorities with a “new common investment hierarchy – enhancing and maintaining existing assets ahead of new build”. This is something that the heritage sector, conservation movement and environmental sector have been recommending for… a long time. BEFS and others have submitted evidence to the work of the Commission at the consultation stage and in a workshop, banging the maintenance drum. It is therefore good news to see the Scottish Government finally adopting this approach. The hierarchy of investment structure proposed:

The Scottish Futures Trust has been tasked with preparing guidance for public organisations when developing asset management strategies, considering whole-life approach including cost and build resources alongside the new investment hierarchy. In looking at the above it is interesting to ponder, were this hierarchy to have been applied 10 years ago would the same decisions on replacing schools, healthcare facilities and housing have been made?

Annex B, Capital Maintenance: The Economic Benefits of the document is worth reading as it makes many of  the points BEFS repeats on the benefits of maintenance, including the wider spread of employment to SMEs but notes the lack of “quantitative evidence on the relative economic impact of capital maintenance as compared to building new infrastructure but evidence suggests that capital maintenance does have as high a rate of return.” There is research currently being undertaken by the Fraser of Allander Institute on this and we hope to see a report in November.

The draft plan is also making the right connections with the forthcoming National Planning Framework and National Housing Delivery Framework as well as other relevant strategies addressing climate targets, and following the Place Principle.

There are a host of financial commitments to be delivered in the draft 5 year strategy, some highlighted below, and while the sums appear large, they will not go far as we would like once applied across 32 local authority areas.

Word searching the draft Infrastructure Investment Plan may not reveal words we hope to see but the investment hierarchy proposed, if implemented and delivered, would make a substantive difference to Scotland’s existing built environment.

BEFS will be working with its Members on the consultation which closes on the 19th November.

The following commitments outlines in the draft plan may also be of interest:

  • Investing £1.6 billion over the next five years to decarbonise heat in buildings, including £55 million new investment in energy efficiency and £95 million programme to decarbonise the public sector estate.
  • Doubling investment in bridge and roads maintenance, enhancing safety with a programme of around £1.5 billion over 5 years
  • Investing £525 million to deliver the next five years of £5 billion city region and regional growth deals.
  • £30 million in delivering the National Islands Plan, supporting a range of areas, including tourism, infrastructure, innovation, energy transition and skills.
  • Investing £275 million to support community-led regeneration and town centre revitalisation as part of a new Place Based Investment Programme
  • Invest over £2.8 billion in direct capital grant funding, over 5 years, to deliver more affordable and social homes, continuing to ensure the right types of homes in the right places reflecting and supporting Local Housing Strategies and regional development priorities.
  • Together with Councils, fund an ambitious £2 billion Learning Estate Improvement Programme, using an outcomes based revenue finance approach.