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5 surprising ways that the British public rates the success of an infrastructure project

04 July 2022

After Crossrail - how vital are construction costs in determining success?

5 surprising ways that the British public rates the success of an infrastructure project
The public considers the long-term benefits of major projects, not just cost of construction. Image credit: Shutterstock

What's most important to the public regarding infrastructure project delivery?

Looking at what politicians often focus on when they debate infrastructure, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a low cost of construction.

Recent polling by YouGov on behalf of the ICE shows this is not the case; there’s a lot that politicians can learn from the public.

Below are five insights from the survey results.

1. The public focuses on long-term outcomes from infrastructure

The most important success metric for the public is that projects will help regenerate and provide benefits to communities.

A third (31%) chose this option, with reliability and long-term cost-effectiveness being the second option (28%).

Just 3% of the public said the most important factor is that the overall cost of constructing the project is low.

This echoes the results from the last time we asked the question 

Taken together, this shows that the public is very savvy when thinking about whole-life benefits and costs of infrastructure projects.

2. The public and politicians agree on the priorities for new infrastructure

When asked to consider the outcomes that are important to them for new infrastructure projects in their local area, over half of the public chose improving their local community (58%).

Some 53% chose the environment, 53% chose creating jobs, and 51% chose helping long-term economic growth as their priorities.

These priorities have all been baked into how decisions are made on infrastructure.

For example, in revisions to the Green Book to the revised remit of the National Infrastructure Commission, and the new remit of the UK Infrastructure Bank.

3. The public, particularly those who are older, want to hear more talk about the benefits from infrastructure

The majority, 68%, of the public agreed with the statement that 'politicians should talk to the public more about the benefits of major infrastructure projects rather than the costs'.

Just 7% disagree. Given the results for the rest of the survey, this is unsurprising.

Those wanting to hear more about the benefits rise with age, with 74% of those over 55 agreeing with the statement.

4. Young people are more likely to be forgiving about projects going over budget

Forty percent agreed (32% disagreed) ‘that it doesn't matter if a major infrastructure project goes over budget if it delivers more benefits to society than expected’.

This figure rises to 48% for 18 to 24-year-olds and 49% for 25 to 34-year-olds.

The figure then falls with age, with those 55+ most likely to disagree with the statement (40%) than agree (35%).

5. The public is relatively practical about budget and schedule overruns

Nearly half (48%) agree that budget and time overruns are inevitable on major infrastructure projects due to unforeseen issues over the long timescale it takes to construct.

Just 25% disagree.

What can we take from these results?

The results suggest that the public see infrastructure projects as investments.

They look beyond managerial issues when it comes to deciding on success, towards whole-life long-term value.

This is important. Later this year, the ICE will be looking at how we can improve infrastructure decision-making.

For example, by getting better at identifying and valuing long-term benefits in how we appraise project proposals.

There’s also a need to get more specific on outcomes and benefits.

At the national level, the outcomes the public want to see, such as regeneration, improving the environment and economic growth, are built into policy making.

However, it’s less clear if the people making spending decisions in Whitehall know enough detail about local priorities.

Our recent policy position statement on levelling up outlined the need to get better at identifying local needs and using local success metrics.

This is the best way to align infrastructure investment to things that will improve local communities.

Editor’s notes

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2039 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th - 27th May 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Take part in our consultation looking for workable solutions to help accelerate the delivery of the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands.

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  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers