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Darryl Murphy, Aviva Investors

Even after a quarter of a century of working in infrastructure, Darryl Murphy’s desire to get things built remains undiminished. His current role as Managing Director, Infrastructure at Aviva Investors means he has money to invest, if the conditions are right.

What can Northern Ireland do to move forward on infrastructure?

“Infrastructure has a key role to play in our post-pandemic world. That goes beyond simply increasing productivity and economic growth, but also our pathway to net zero, which is something all countries and cities will have to deal with.

“In Belfast, there’s unified support for the need for infrastructure investments, meaning everything from transportation improvements through to social infrastructure, which one can probably incorporate housing, to the wider social infrastructure and into developments around our low-carbon transition. And that can be everything from the sort of greening of energy generation through to networks through to electric vehicle charging. It’s also important to factor the increased role of digital into that, which is very important for cities.

“Probably the most profound parts of digital will be around fibre. Recognising the importance of fibre to the home, but also its role in terms of business-to-business means it may well have moved up the agenda as a result of the pandemic

“How do you find those aims? How do you take a step forward? The first thing I’d say is that infrastructure doesn’t happen accidentally. It needs a lot of planning and support, particularly coordinated government support and the right policy environment, and then the right delivery mechanics and the right funding and financing models. I’m a strong believer that the way to make that work is that you need a plan.

“Over recent years, the National Infrastructure Commission, looking at an infrastructure assessment, provides a long-term strategy. It is essential to bring that approach and methodology to bear at a regional level and at a city level, and therefore use it for the relevant political establishments.

“We should have a strategic idea about the infrastructure we need for society in future. That is the cornerstone. Once you have that plan, and a vision, it boils down to what can be achieved.

“In the near term that aligns with that original plan, and then it becomes about delivery and the right support. So, in a way, it’s structural; it’s about government backing and clear articulation of that direction of travel to the public, investors developers – everyone should be clear about the way forward.”

Are any UK regions getting it right at the moment?

“There is a gap. We’ve seen London has tried and has had a plan. We’ve seen historically quite a lot of work around the Greater Manchester area, and some good work has been done there. It’s somewhat surprising, perhaps, but I’ve yet to see anyone doing it on a comprehensive basis. And why is that? Sometimes it can be just pressures at a particular city level, whether that’s too many competing interests, a lack of capacity or lack of bodies mandated to provide that long-term vision. But, sadly, I don’t think there is a great example you can immediately point to, certainly not in the UK.”

Over to you, Belfast.

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