It need not be this way. The poor quality of this debate is a reflection of an institutional vacuum in the UK that afflicts areas of policy where projects extend beyond parliamentary cycles, and require cross-party support and coordination. Infrastructure projects of national significance are a prime example. Building sustainable, cross-party agreement requires a sensible debate about the relative merits of different investment options. This involves pondering complex, risky trade-offs often with profound, long-lasting economic effects. Rigorous, independent assessment of the evidence about these effects and serious consultation processes can influence the quality of debate and lay the foundations for social and political consensus. Deliberative processes of this kind are a hallmark of high-quality democracy, and they live off the strength of the institutions that support them. Some countries known to perform relatively well in terms of infrastructure investment have these deliberative processes embedded in the DNA of their political system e.g. Denmark and Sweden have political systems with multiple institutional veto-players that incentivise cross-party dialogue and consensus. Some other countries, whose political systems place instead a greater emphasis on flexibility and accountability, have opted for setting up bespoke institutions to support those deliberative processes e.g. Infrastructure Australia, Infrastructure Ontario […]

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