DIY and the Scottish Infrastructure Commission

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 20 November 2018 in Comment

The new commission has been welcomed but if it is to be a success it will need to walk a tightrope

Image credit: Registers of Scotland

The Scottish Government has launched a new infrastructure commission to guide its decision making on major projects, and I can sympathise, having recently launched a major infrastructure project of my own.

The plan is for the new commission to advise ministers following a £7bn boost in funding for national infrastructure from the Programme for Government, while also reporting on proposals for a Scottish National Infrastructure Company.

My own project, in contrast, was based on moving all the door handles in my flat so they can be used to actually keep the doors closed.

And there are some strong similarities in the strategic priorities contained in the two approaches. For example, both plans have a strong emphasis on inclusive connectivity. In the Scottish Government’s case, that means everything from improving physical infrastructure – anything from roads to bridges to waste disposal – to the rollout of digital services such as fibre-optic broadband.

A key aim of my project, meanwhile, was also related to connectivity. None of the doors would close, and as such, the flat had far too much connectivity.

For their part, campaigners have basically reserved judgement on the commission until further notice. Some have called for protections to ensure consistency in planning, with the Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland recommending the body should be independent, with cross-party representation, to ensure long-term consistency.

For others, its achievements will be defined by the extent to which it can foster sustainability. If the commission is a success in the eyes of green campaigners it will take account of the future lifetime emissions of something like a new road during the planning process.

My own project was also met with a degree of scepticism, particularly in terms of planning. For example, there was some criticism from the public – or at least my partner – who seemed to feel that my decision to start operating a power drill at 10pm, with no basic training at all, was rash.

This was clearly an issue relating to community engagement. I’ve always been very clear that public buy-in is essential to making these sorts of projects a success, and in that sense it’s important that lessons are learned from the process, particularly following an analysis, produced verbally, suggesting the consultation stage could have been longer and more thorough. I also regret covering the place in sawdust.

The project had a high degree of transparency, though, at least in the sense that there are now small holes in all the doors. It was also highly sustainable, with my strategic aim of just moving the old handles, rather than getting new ones, very much in-keeping with current best practice on the circular economy.

Of course, with a development of this sort of ambition, there were always going to be downsides. For example, I did notice I was bleeding.

But with the project nearing completion, I felt it incumbent on me to launch a PR blitz aimed at generating public enthusiasm, and so at this point, I decided to take inspiration from Derek Mackay. Around a year ago, the Finance Secretary celebrated the Queensferry Crossing as “a symbol of what this country can achieve”. Standing there, looking at my work, I felt the words resonate. As he put it, the bridge is more than just a bridge. It was “a message to the world”. “We are Scotland,” he said. “We build bridges, not walls.”

This was very much how I felt, not least because I have yet to attempt a wall. It was a symbol of what the flat could be. A message to the street. A statement to the world.

But with the work completed under budget (it cost nothing) and on time (I hadn’t planned to do it), I pronounced it a runaway success.

With so many different interests to satisfy, time will tell whether the Scottish Government can boast the same.

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