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Infrastructure blog

The time to save Scotland’s infrastructure is now

13 November 2020

Much of Scotland’s infrastructure wasn’t built to withstand the impacts of climate change being seen today. Here, ICE Scotland Director Hannah Smith sets out the challenge and opportunity of making Scotland’s Infrastructure ‘Climate Ready’.

The time to save Scotland’s infrastructure is now
Hannah Smith, ICE Scotland Director

We now have a year to go until the UN climate-change conference, COP-26, comes to Glasgow. As organisations around the globe prepare for this event the sense of urgency around lowering emissions and delivering a more sustainable future is – rightly – coming to the fore.

While we look to the future, it’s easy to overlook what’s happening today - but it is clear to infrastructure professionals that climate change impacts are being felt here and now.

Over the past few months in Scotland, the impact of extreme weather on our infrastructure has been particularly acute.

Users of the A83 have seen countless closures of the Rest and be Thankful – including a five week-long closure for landslip repairs across August and September. Analysis shows that each day the road is closed costs the local economy £55,000.

Rest and be Thankful landslip repairs
Rest and be Thankful landslip repairs

Late summer too saw a huge part of the A68 collapse in the Scottish Borders, a breach of the Union Canal forcing the closure of the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail line and, most tragically, three people killed when a train derailed after hitting a landslip on the line near Stonehaven.

Making infrastructure climate ready

These incidents – and the many others - show clearly that large portions of Scottish infrastructure simply were not built to withstand the weather conditions increasingly being seen today, the subject of ICE Scotland’s 2020 State of the Nation policy report. Without a programme of retrofitting and adapting our existing assets, we risk increased repair bills, poorly performing infrastructure, and even a series of failures – with potentially devastating consequences. We must make our infrastructure climate ready.

Harnessing expertise

This is a huge challenge – in scale, in cost and in logistics. That’s why ICE Scotland is recommending the establishment of an Infrastructure Adaptation Task Force which would, for the first time, gather experts to consider exactly what steps to take to make Scotland’s infrastructure resilient.

We need to work across infrastructure sectors harnessing collective expertise to consider how best to use existing mechanisms (such as procurement, planning frameworks and the Scottish National Investment Bank) and of course, to determine how to sustainably fund such a programme of work.

The benefits far outweigh the costs – and not just in terms of saving on future repair bills and keeping the economy moving.

A structured programme of adaptation could lead to job creation, workforce development and skills training. Well-performing infrastructure would boost productivity – creating business opportunities and removing regional disparities.

Infrastructure that benefits communities

Well-designed and resilient infrastructure can ensure communities thrive without disruption from weather events, helping create places we want to live, socialise and work in. Use of nature-based infrastructure solutions can be positive for the environment and support both our physical and mental health.

Good infrastructure can even help reduce inequalities – for example, adaptations to a public transport network can incorporate better disabled access; flood management schemes can open-up space for affordable housing. The scale of the opportunity is staggering.

Events of 2020 have shown that there is no time for complacency – the impact of climate change on Scotland’s infrastructure is being felt today. We need decisive action, backed by expertise and long-term commitments. With the right stewardship, our infrastructure assets can deliver economic, social and environmental value; but only if that infrastructure is climate ready.

The recommendations from the ICE Scotland State of the Nation 2020 report were submitted as our response to the Scottish Government’s Draft Infrastructure Investment Plan which it published for consultation in September.

The five-year draft plan from Government is wide-ranging, setting out a range of welcome ambitions for Scotland’s future infrastructure landscape, but in our view more focus on increasing our infrastructure resiliency in the face of climate change is required.

Read the Scotland SON Report

  • Hannah Smith, director at ICE Scotland