Much anticipated and long-delayed, the UK’s National Infrastructure Strategy is finally set to be unveiled and is likely to bring huge opportunity for the civil engineering profession to shine.
The UK’s National Infrastructure Strategy is finally set to be unveiled and is likely to bring huge opportunity for the civil engineering profession to shine.
The strategy is the government's formal response to the now two-and-a-half-year-old National Infrastructure Assessment, which was the product of the impartial National Infrastructure Commission set up when David Cameron was prime minister. It should have been published last autumn but was delayed first by a General Election and Brexit rows and then again by Covid-19.
Such a delay would ordinarily be frustrating but if, as is understood, chancellor Rishi Sunak has used the time to refocus the strategy incorporate the grand challenges of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 while also "levelling up" the regions, then the opportunity for civil engineering to step up and turn the strategy into reality is huge.
What makes good design?
But is the profession ready for the challenge? Put quite simply, are we up to the task?
Two interlinked ICE projects are aiming to answer that question and then, where necessary, step in and help guide the civil engineering professionals, providing them with the knowledge they need to play their role in delivering the government’s strategy.
The first project is a collaboration with the National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Group. It aims to explore the extent to which civil engineers understand and can deliver 'good' design, based on the Group’s four key design principles of climate, people, places and value.
The Design Principles for National Infrastructure were set out by the Design Group in February this year and are firmly aligned with the government’s drives of net zero and 'levelling up'.
The project kicked off with an ICE Strategy Session 'What makes good design' earlier this month and with NIC Commissioner and Design Group chair Professor Sadie Morgan reminding the audience that everybody working on a project is responsible for design and not just those that are called “designers”.
Morgan was joined by Design Panel colleagues including Andrew Grant, founder of landscape architect Grant Associates and award-winning designer of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. Grant highlighted the enormous influence professional civil engineers have due to their sheer number [currently at 95,000] – more than ten times his own professional institution – and explained infrastructure’s far-reaching “value”.
“Value is not just about saving money; it’s about how we really start to build social or environmental infrastructure and make places that are going to be sustainable in the long run,” he said.
To fully understand the extent to which ICE members are equipped to deliver this step change in quality design, members have now been invited to take part in a survey 'What makes good design'. It seeks to understand the extent to which civil engineers consider the design principles in their everyday work and the findings will be used to inform the Institution's forward knowledge programmes.
The Carbon Project
With net-zero as one of the four design principles, the survey findings will clearly help inform the second, interlinked project: The Carbon Project.
The Carbon Project is a collaborative effort, led by the ICE, to deliver rapid progress towards net zero carbon across all infrastructure systems, programmes and projects. It is focused on specific areas of technical practice where the civil engineering community has the greatest, direct potential to support carbon reduction, and is initially focused on three areas:
- meaningful measurement
- building new capabilities
- transforming existing system-level emissions
The survey is one of two key pieces of live research that will contribute hugely powerful insight from which the Carbon Project (and the broader NIC collaboration) can start to build.
The second is equally powerful and will be revealed next month in this year’s Unwin lecture. Here, ICE has commissioned research, led by Dr Jannik Giesekam, to update the emissions dataset behind the original 2012 Infrastructure Carbon Review with data from 2010 to 2018. Updating the dataset will provide an assessment of progress to date and highlight the remaining challenges in delivering net-zero.
Neither pieces of work will solve any problems directly: only civil engineers themselves can do that. But they will offer insight so that programmes can be developed and provide a baseline from which future progress can be measured. It is a hugely important and exciting start as the profession prepares to deliver that all-important infrastructure strategy.