The ICE has published its annual State of the Nation report. This year, the report focuses on the steps required to better integrate the delivery of infrastructure and housing.
Civil engineering exists to improve our quality of life – and the role of our homes in our quality of life cannot be disputed.
The provision of housing, as part of creating high-quality, productive places, is one of the UK’s most pressing problems, so the decision to focus our key policy report on the need for a more integrated approach to the way in which it's delivered alongside infrastructure is entirely intentional.
We can’t afford to have swathes of new developments to be served by poor infrastructure connections and public services, nor do we want to see a lack of strategic or local infrastructure causing a block to quality sites. We want to be a part of the creation of strong, productive and sustainable places for the people who live in them for generations to come.
This report, State of the Nation 2019: Connecting Infrastructure with Housing report identifies that more of the same will not suffice.
Identifying the issues
In producing State of the Nation (SoN), we spoke to 170 expert individuals and organisations across the UK for their views on current challenges and where improvements can be made. These included housebuilders, strategic landowners, local and national public bodies, and many others.
The themes and challenges that were discussed time and again included: disjointed approaches to the phasing of infrastructure and housing, inequitable funding models and a lack of co-ordination between plans and strategies at different levels, even where they're adjacent.
We have two new drivers at our disposal that make this year’s State of the Nation report both timely and topical.
The first is a public desire and demand for solutions that take much better account of climate change. The second relates to new technologies and their potential to plan, deliver and operate differently.
We know that we can do much more to deliver homes and infrastructure with the climate-led net zero carbon agenda in mind, and we can see the broad directions of technological travel across the transport, energy, water and digital sectors, noting their continued evolution.
We'll only achieve our UK policy target of achieving net zero by 2050 through future-proofed solutions that harness and bind together the need to tackle climate change and the opportunity offered by technology.
As civil engineers we have a phenomenal opportunity, right now, to shape and change the world in a visible, relevant and responsible way that delivers real results.
We don’t need all the answers up front to know that every sector can and must do more. We're all on this hook together: we need better design, much better delivery and long-run operational changes to our systems and networks, whether new or existing.
This applies as much to heating systems in homes to the emergence of increasingly connected and automated vehicles, from renewable and decentralised energy sources to low-carbon construction.
So, what solutions have we identified?
Solutions for better connecting infrastructure and housing
To improve the way in which infrastructure and housing is planned, the report sets out the case for regional infrastructure strategies to be developed. Such strategies could be developed by widening the remit of the current - and potential future - sub-national transport bodies to include all economic infrastructure sectors.
Each strategy would identify the provision of infrastructure and housing required in a given region, while taking into consideration the priorities set out in the government’s forthcoming National Infrastructure Strategy to ensure that joined-up planning takes place at regional and national scales.
Reforms to the Development Consent Order regime are put forward in the planning section of the report. If adopted, these would enable developments of 5,000 or more homes to be delivered with the necessary infrastructure to support them under one consent.
On funding, the case for extending the Housing and Infrastructure Fund beyond 2023-24 is made, including proposals for ringfencing part of the money available in order to unlock development in areas of England with lower land values.
Finally, the report also calls for housing to be added to the National Infrastructure Commission’s charter and recommends that its next infrastructure assessment should identify options for futureproofing developments in order to help inform new housing standards in England. This would help to ensure that infrastructure and housing delivery takes proper account of our net-zero objectives and the associated advances in technology that are required to achieve them.