What lessons can we learn from Covid-19 about how we deliver infrastructure in the future?

ICG and ICE have published a new Green Paper for consultation on the lessons from Covid-19 for future infrastructure delivery. The work will inform future priorities for the Infrastructure Client Group.

What will the
What will the 'new normal' look like for infrastructure and construction?

With governments across the UK starting to ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, now is the time to start looking to the future and asking - what will the new normal be? And what will that mean for both the infrastructure required and how we deliver it?

Today, we published a new Green Paper or consultation on behalf of the Infrastructure Client Group. It seeks to answer these questions, and more, and feed into a wider Construction Leadership Council plan for reinvention in the delivery of infrastructure.

Infrastructure takes a long time to get right. From conception through to delivery and integration, many decisions and trade-offs need to be made in what can often be an uncertain environment.

Covid-19 comes with a range of unknowns around the future, but it also brings many lessons about what needs to change. The Green Paper explores some of these, looking at systemic learnings, changes in delivering infrastructure in the medium-term, and how we deliver it differently in the future.

Our assumptions are underpinned by the interviews, surveys and analysis we've conducted over the last few weeks. This underlying evidence base will be published over the course of the Green Paper consultation period.

Systemic lessons

Social distancing requirements have demonstrated that ‘connectivity’ isn’t just about moving people, but also about moving information. It has shown us the importance of multi-modal local transport to serve a resurgent local economy, alongside priority connections to centralised locations such as hospitals. These are lessons we, as an industry, will need to take forward as we seek to understand what form the new normal will take.

There are other systemic lessons too, for policy makers. Scientific evidence has been the driving force behind political decision making – can we put this to use in other policy domains as well? For example, reduced travel has led to improved air quality and reduced carbon emissions, how can we entrench these positive outcomes?

What other systemic changes, driven by lessons learned during the lockdown period, can we expect to be important as part of the new normal?

Lessons on what infrastructure is required

Infrastructure is a means to an end, never an end in itself. That end is to deliver against societal need – so what can we learn about what society requires in the medium to long-term?

The important role of digital infrastructure, both mobile and internet, has come to the fore during the lockdown. In a world where even Parliament is now operating through remote video conferencing, it is difficult to imagine returning completely to the ‘old normal’ of every meeting being face-to-face. So, we will need to accelerate the rollout of digital infrastructure.

Similarly, we’ve seen some announcements from government around active travel as a way to support intra-city transport during the return to normal. Will this become the new norm as people see the ease in which local journeys can be done by foot or by bike?

Perceptions of working from home for office workers will have shifted dramatically both by employees and employers. What does that mean for offices? Can some of these be repurposed for housing so that those who do need to work in city centres outside the home, have more homes closer to their places of work?

And what about existing transport programmes? These will be linked to long-term forecasts around population growth and transport de-carbonisation. But do we need to review these in light of changing expectations around public transport being safe from a public health perspective?

What other changes to infrastructure provision will be needed and what assumptions sit behind that need?

Lessons on how we deliver

How we deliver will need to change too. Not just to deliver new infrastructure quickly in the short-term, but also to adapt to changing safety expectations and to maximise value and societal outcomes.

The Green Paper explores the lessons and what assumptions we can make. These include the need for business models to change to more collaborative forms of delivery, both to move at pace but also to manage risks during periods of heightened uncertainty. Lessons from the rebuild of Christchurch, New Zealand following the 2011 earthquake, and the Lima 2019 Pan American Games offer us some insight into the art of the possible.

With public funds stretched, transport fare revenues down and government credit ratings being impacted both now and the foreseeable future, we will need to explore new models of finance and funding for infrastructure systems. Options include infrastructure project bonds, which may be seen as safer. But can we go even further to look at directly crowd-funded municipal bonds for more local projects?

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, is it time we made the fundamental shift away from talking about the need to adopt a systems-thinking approach for better infrastructure performance and outcomes to actual applying the principle in practice?

What are the intermediate steps required to move us towards these new approaches to delivery?

Consultation questions

We want your insight and evidence to help inform our White Paper and future policy programmes. In particular, the questions we would like answers to are:

  • Question 1: What other factors, or combination of factors, will determine attitudes to public life as we transition to a new normal?
  • Question 2: What other systemic changes, driven by lessons learned during the lockdown period, can we expect to be important as part of the new normal?
  • Question 3: Are our assumptions of the new priorities for infrastructure correct?
  • Question 4: What other changes to infrastructure provision will be needed and what assumptions sit behind that need?
  • Question 5: Have we made the correct assumptions on the changes in delivery that will be required, to deliver infrastructure as part of the new normal?
  • Question 6: What are the intermediate steps required to move us towards these new approaches to delivery?
  • Question 7: What other fundamental shifts are required to deliver concrete and long-lasting change in how we operationalise to deliver infrastructure to achieve societal requirements?

Read the Green Paper

The consultation runs until 14 June. To make a submission, email [email protected] with your responses to the questions.

You can keep up to date with progress of the programme via the ICE News or by signing up to ICE Informs.

Top