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IPW: guidance on resetting UK infrastructure projects, and New Zealand looks at infrastructure interdependencies

19 September 2023

A UK committee outlines how to improve failing projects, while a New Zealand council seeks to revolutionise infrastructure resilience investment.

IPW: guidance on resetting UK infrastructure projects, and New Zealand looks at infrastructure interdependencies
The Crossrail project had to be reset a number of times due to cost and time overruns. Image credit: Shutterstock

UK government failing to learn lessons from when major projects go wrong, warns committee

The UK’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found that resets of failing major projects and programmes are made more difficult by a lack of guidance from the UK government.

This has led to project resets being rushed or avoided altogether until too late, creating additional problems.

The UK government expects to spend hundreds of billions of pounds across its largest, most innovative and riskiest major programmes. This includes infrastructure projects such as HS2 and road upgrades.

While nobody wants to see these major projects fail, factors such as rising costs, a changing external environment, and unforeseen delays mean that some need to be changed, reset, or stopped entirely.

A reset provides a valuable milestone to make these changes, but PAC has warned that the government doesn’t have a standard definition for resets, with no guidance available for decision-makers.

PAC makes a number of recommendations so that the UK government can improve the value of resets and learn from its experiences.

This includes the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) and HM Treasury, which scrutinise and approve major schemes, to provide officials with better support to improve their decision-making on resets.

The ICE’s view:

Major infrastructure projects and programmes suffer from a tendency to cost more or take longer than initial estimates outline.

Projects themselves are complicated undertakings. They take place over years or decades, have unique requirements, and bring together multiple stakeholders and a complex supply chain.

Getting value for money in infrastructure delivery has been a long-term challenge for governments globally.

As PAC outlines, fresh examination of a major project can be a positive move if it’s based on sound principles and done at the right time.

Crossrail, which is now delivering multiple benefits as the Elizabeth Line, had to be reset a number of times due to cost and time overruns.

However, PAC outlines that resets on Crossrail could’ve happened sooner if there’d been the right guidance and culture in place.

Fundamentally, governments need to change how they think about infrastructure.

The successes of projects shouldn’t be measured by the amount they cost, but rather by what benefits they provide in the long term.

ICE research shows the public agree and want to hear more about benefits.

Infrastructure interdependencies are critical, New Zealand resilience report highlights

A new report on infrastructure vulnerabilities and resilience has been released by the New Zealand Lifelines Council.

The report aims to stimulate awareness around interdependencies between infrastructure sectors.

In addition, it aims to drive change in the approach to prioritising resilience investment in infrastructure to best meet the New Zealand public’s needs.

Strengthening the resilience of infrastructure is a key focus of the New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy.

This includes considering the extent to which critical infrastructure networks rely on one another to function.

New Zealand experienced this recently with Cyclone Gabrielle and Auckland flooding events, where electricity disruptions also impacted communities’ water and communication networks.

Cascade failures such as this are a growing risk.

The Lifelines Council outline that resilience projects that would’ve mitigated many recent failures had been identified, but not prioritised or funded.

It calls for resilience to be properly integrated into the investment, planning and recovery frameworks, as well as maintenance strategies, of critical infrastructure owners – at local, regional and national levels.

The report says that regional infrastructure resilience business cases would help achieve this.

The ICE’s view:

New Zealand published its first national adaptation plan last year as it faced up to the growing risks from climate change.

Acknowledging the risk of natural disasters, including putting contingencies in place, has become more pressing since the onset of the climate crisis.

Infrastructure owners and operators must ensure that they understand the interdependencies between infrastructure systems.

Infrastructure is an interconnected ‘system of systems’ and it must be managed as such.

Policymakers and infrastructure owners need to understand these systems better so they can intervene more effectively.

This is something the ICE highlighted in a policy paper on the UK’s infrastructure system climate resilience earlier this year.

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  • David Hawkes, head of policy at ICE