This is Civil Engineering projects for the people

The Institute for Government has produced an excellent short analysis of the main parties’ election manifestos and what they mean for UK infrastructure. They highlight themes that have been recurring features of ICE’s State of the Nation reports.

Children in Scotland taking part in the #thisiscivilengineering campaign, just one of the ways we looking to influence how we talk about infrastructure
Children in Scotland taking part in the #thisiscivilengineering campaign, just one of the ways we looking to influence how we talk about infrastructure

These themes include:

  • the blurring of the lines between government and regulators;
  • a weak evidence base for decision making;
  • a lack of forward looking strategy;
  • a failure to get buy in from local communities.

This last point should receive more attention. I’ve been working on infrastructure policy for over a decade and happily confess to a weakness for technocratic solutions. And don’t get me wrong our policy framework needs attention. It is important however that we don’t fall into the trap of believing that this will be sufficient.

Back in the 1990’s two academics, Geoffrey Dudley and Jeremy Richardson published an analysis of British Trunk policy in the fifty years since World War 2. A perhaps unsurprising finding was that well motivated groups excluded from what they perceive as closed bureaucratic decision making, find alternative venues where they can pursue their goals. In the case of trunk roads this of course included Twyford Down and the rise of direct action against contractors delivering schemes.

Alongside policy change we must work harder to win public support. Better, earlier engagement and generous compensation obviously has a role to play and I think we need to get a better handle on what the French actually do! But we can do better. As an industry we’ve got a great story to tell, we just don’t always find the right words.

Last year the CBI published a study noting that while politicians of all parties are now backing infrastructure investment, public support remained fragile. Benefits of schemes are too often described in abstract economic terms – and at the national rather than local scale.

Changing how we talk about projects is a long term challenge. An early contribution is the recent relaunch of ICE’s #This is Civil Engineering campaign. The scheme, which sees banners go up alongside site boards, sets out very simple messages about what these projects actually do:

  • providing clean water;
  • dealing with waste;
  • getting you to work.

We’ve already got 20 new projects displaying the banners and early feedback is positive. I’d love to hear readers’ feedback on This is and how else we can communicate the real, tangible difference engineers make to people’s lives.

Find out more

Visit our This is Civil Engineering pages to find out more about the campaign and some of the projects involved.