Mahmood Azam, head of strategy, growth and economic development at Highways England, set out details of the body’s new Growth and Housing Fund at yesterday’s Institute of Economic Development’s annual conference in London.
The fund, administered by Highways England, is intended to provide capital investment to bridge funding gaps in highway work and associated transport infrastructure which are preventing economic and housing sites from being progressed. Azam said that the fund would launch in the New Year.
He said that the agency would be looking for "planning certainty" when assessing bids. "Those projects that are in that domain, where they can actually demonstrate delivery over the next five years, have the strongest chance of winning those resources from that fund," he said.
Azam also told the conference, organised in association with Planning, that local authorities should better assess the viability of sites before allocating them local plans to ensure that low levels of infrastructure investment are required.
He said that some sites that are coming forward are calling for more infrastructure investment, but these have "viability questions".
According to Azam, a "better testing of the commercial viability of sites and their market attractiveness before they go into local plans" could mean that a "more low level of infrastructure investment" would be necessary "than what would be the case ordinarily".
Earlier in the same conference session, planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners launched research showing that the level of private sector investment leveraged by Growth Deals between local enterprise partnerships and the government vary widely across the country.
According to the consultancy’s analysis, the £1 billion of Growth Deals announced earlier this year saw some LEPs estimate an extra £1 million would create almost 750 new jobs, while others said it would be just 25.
Some LEPs estimated that every additional £1 million of funding would create 15 new homes, while others said it would create 304 homes, according to the research.
Ciaran Gunne-Jones, Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners economics director, said: "With such a large variation in potential match funding and subsequent outputs, are all LEPs able to estimate and evaluate impacts with sufficient accuracy? Moving forwards, this will be crucial to any further devolution and investment opportunities."
Devolving Growth: Local Opportunities for Strategic Infrastructure Investment is available here.