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The impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s future infrastructure provision

13 August 2020

Following a public consultation earlier in the summer, ICE is publishing a White Paper setting out what the UK’s infrastructure networks may look like following Covid-19.

The impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s future infrastructure provision
56% of UK adults state that they are likely to avoid using underground systems. Image credit: Shutterstock

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, ICE, in conjunction with the Infrastructure Client Group (ICG), has undertaken a range of research to assess what the impacts of the pandemic might be on the UK’s infrastructure networks. This work has culminated in the publication of a White Paper, which puts forward several recommendations relating to the types of infrastructure that we may need in the future and how it should be delivered.

The White Paper comes as a YouGov poll continues to highlight anxiety towards public transport use following the complete lifting of social distancing measures in the future, with 56% of UK adults stating that they are likely to avoid using underground systems. In addition, 50% of UK adults have said that social distancing measures should be continued on public transport even after the pandemic is over.

The findings and recommendations set out in the White Paper are based on the views of 100 key stakeholders and organisations that fed into the public consultation. From this exercise a clear sense of what the UK’s infrastructure networks may look like in the future has emerged.

What has Covid-19 changed?

The lockdown has demonstrated that many parts of the workforce can efficiently operate remotely, and that the traditional 9 to 5 spent entirely in the office is no longer necessary. Other changes that have been witnessed during Covid-19 are those in the levels of people walking, cycling, and running. In short, participation in active travel has rocketed.

Taken together these changes point to a future whereby, at least in the short to medium-term, new infrastructure investments should be prioritised around accelerating the rollout of both fibre and 5G and greater active travel provision. Therefore, enabling many thousands of people to continue to work more flexibly (i.e. between the office and home), while ensuring that safe spaces for more members of the public to continue to engage in active travel are in place.

What hasn’t Covid-19 changed?

However, there was still an unequivocal consensus amongst respondents to the consultation that the UK’s long-term infrastructure drivers and challenges have not changed because of Covid-19.

Projected population growth of 75 million by 2050 means that ongoing investment in the UK’s core infrastructure networks remains paramount and this includes investment in conventional public transport services. After all there are many occupations whereby it is either not possible or very difficult to work remotely e.g. in the healthcare, manufacturing, construction, and hospitality sectors.

Reducing the infrastructure sector’s carbon footprint and ensuring that the sector plays its part in delivering net-zero emissions by 2050 was also identified as critical in the long-term and an outcome that must shape all major infrastructure investment decisions going forward.

Improving infrastructure delivery and next steps for the White Paper

The White Paper also includes several recommendations around improving the delivery of infrastructure; so that processes are more efficient, and the infrastructure sector is more productive as a consequence. Specifically, the paper sets out the need for the greater use of enterprise delivery models across the sector and a switch to outcomes-based procurement.

This Infrastructure Client Group and ICE White Paper will form the basis of future work by the Construction Leadership Council’s Infrastructure Working Group as part of the Construction Roadmap to Recovery Plan. More information can be found on their website.

Read The White Paper

  • Ben Goodwin, lead policy manager at ICE