Colin Woold BW 2018

At last the UK appears to have a long term plan for meeting the country’s identified infrastructure needs and priorities. An overriding message in the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC’s) first National Infrastructure Assessment is the need for the UK to take decisive action to achieve world-leading infrastructure. Our industry has certainly been calling for decisive action to accelerate infrastructure delivery for many years. The assessment’s recommendations are welcome, but what’s needed next is certainty around project delivery.

Given the critical role of infrastructure in driving the economy, confirmation that much-needed programmes will be funded will give industry the certainty it needs to deliver. The inclusion of transformative projects like Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in the assessment is encouraging. Rapid progress of these vital programmes will help the UK compete on the global stage.

However, all aspects of the delivery process must be explored to ensure speedy, high-quality results. Outdated delivery models risk slowing the progress of critical projects. Incentivised, well-designed and performance-based partnership models have the potential to transform the delivery of major infrastructure projects.

Encouragingly, the assessment supports the continued development of innovative technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles. With research already in progress, the UK now has the backing to remain at the forefront of this rapidly developing sector. Wide-scale implementation of these types of technologies require sufficient digital infrastructure, stressing the importance of the assessment’s recommendation to improve digital connectivity on the UK road network.

The assessment advocates a switch to greener ways of providing energy without increasing bills, recommending at least 50 percent renewable electricity generation by 2030. Increasing the contribution of renewables to the country’s energy mix is encouraging and will go a long way to helping the UK meets its legally-binding climate change targets. But in order to truly drive down costs for consumers, a diverse mix is needed to increase the UK’s energy security and reduce future reliance on expensive energy imports.

The assessment’s recommendation that cities should have the powers and funding they need to pursue ambitious, integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing is particularly encouraging. This proposal should give metro mayors and city leaders the ability to develop and implement long term integrated strategies that will support growth in their cities. Transport infrastructure should never be planned in a silo. Housing, education and healthcare also play a vital role in ensuring the economic effectiveness of new infrastructure, ensuring people will want to live and work in an area and thereby making a project a more attractive investment proposition. 

The growing threat of flooding requires new thinking and the assessment’s recommendation for a national strategy to reduce risks paves the way for a long-term view of flood management. The call for a combination of measures is particularly welcome, with a mix of traditional flood defence infrastructure and sustainable flood risk management strategies likely needed. 

The government has committed to responding to the assessment within six months, setting out which recommendations it has agreed to and alternative proposals for any recommendations it has not. Timely decisions will be vital to boost business confidence. While industry is rightly optimistic about the long term vision set out in the assessment, swift and bold decision-making will create greater certainty for the sector.