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A game-changing opportunity for civil engineers as government backs Design Champions for infrastructure

03 December 2020

The Government has given real hope for the future of infrastructure with the UK’s first ever 30- year strategy that includes the bold requirement that all projects have a board-level Design Champion in place by the end of 2021.

A game-changing opportunity for civil engineers as government backs Design Champions for infrastructure
Can the UK seize the chance to become Design Champions and be at the forefront of driving brilliant design such as Singapore’s Supertree Grove? (Image credit: Shutterstock)

ICE believes the Government has given real hope for the future with publication of the UK’s first ever 30-year strategy for infrastructure.

The strategy, a response to the National Infrastructure Assessment published by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) in 2018, sets out how government will use infrastructure to boost economic recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic and ‘level up’ communities across the UK with a £4bn fund. It acknowledges the need to de-carbonise in order to meet the net-zero target by 2050 and tackle climate change, and this will be driven by a new National Infrastructure Bank – something ICE has called on government to establish since publishing our State of the Nation 2018: Infrastructure Investment.

There is genuine cause for optimism that so many of the National Infrastructure Commission’s evidence-based recommendations have been taken on board.

And there is one recommendation in particular that all champions of good design should be truly delighted that government has fully endorsed. It is now a requirement that is all infrastructure projects have a board-level Design Champion, and government has stipulated that these champions be in place by the end of 2021.

A massive opportunity

What an opportunity this is for civil engineers. A genuine opportunity to step up and truly demonstrate how we as profession can deliver infrastructure for people, for places, for climate and, yes, for value. Those are the four constituents of good design, as defined by the NIC’s Design Principles that Design Champions will be working from and accountable to.

ICE is determined that civil engineers embrace this opportunity and we are already working collaboratively with the NIC on a project aimed at helping both organisations understand civil engineers’ views and attitudes towards the principles, and their wider experience of design.

Survey analysis

A survey was launched at a September ICE Strategy Session and, with almost 1,300 responses now analysed, a report into the findings will be published early next year, with recommendations planned for how to roll out a knowledge programme for civil engineers who want to seize this opportunity, fully understand the design principles and put themselves in the pole position to be those design champions.

This opportunity is truly exciting. And with chancellor Rishi Sunak confirming that capital spending on infrastructure will total £100bn in 2020/21 alone and outlandish (outrageous even, depending on your viewpoint) schemes such as South Coast Expressways and Irish Sea Crossings under serious consideration, civil engineers will absolutely need to be able to explain how these schemes match up to the NIC’s ideal.

With the emphasis on people and places, public engagement will be to the fore for sure. One of the key findings of our member survey is that this is an area of potential complacency and that is worrying given you do not have to look far for evidence that we as a profession are failing.

Communication is key

Only last week a YouGov poll found that around half of MPs feel that government and other promoters of major infrastructure fail to communicate the importance of these projects to the public.

ICE’s all-new community engagement community of practice will have a key role to play here. As revealed at a Strategy Session last month it is consulting on new principles and we will be working with the NIC to ensure they work hand in glove with its design principles.

And as Stantec civil engineer and community of practice co-chair Monika Szczyrba told the session, engaging with the public is empowering.

Watch that Strategy Session again below.

“The perception is that it results in delays and bad press. In fact, it is usually the opposite. I have been learning how empowering it can be to place communities at the heart of our projects and decision-making,” said Szczyrba.

“And if your purpose is to serve the communities as best as you can, how can you do that without fully understanding the impact on the public?” she concluded. Perfectly put.

If you are interested in getting involved and connecting with ICE’s growing network of civil engineers and professionals collaborating to build on our design and engagement skills, please contact us.

Get involved

  • Mark Hansford, director of engineering knowledge at Institution of Civil Engineers