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What will the 'new normal' look like for the UK's infrastructure networks?

20 May 2020

The Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing measures have had a significant impact on infrastructure demand across the UK. ICE is today publishing an insights paper that explores attitudes towards public life once these measures have been lifted to try and understand what future infrastructure provision might look like.

What will the 'new normal' look like for the UK's infrastructure networks?
Social distancing has become the norm in public life

The impact of lockdown measures has been most profound on the UK's public transport networks. Towards the end of April, the use of national rail and London Underground services had shrunk by 99% and 96% respectively, while bus use across Great Britain was down by 88%. The number of departures from the UK's busiest airports has also significantly fallen away.

Although not as dramatic, other economic infrastructure sectors have also been impacted by the changes to public life that have been brought about by Covid-19. For example, National Grid have estimated a 10% fall in the demand for electricity as industrial use has shrunk during the course of the pandemic.

Life after Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing measures

It is of course difficult to predict what the long-term effects of Covid-19 will be on infrastructure demand. The pandemic is still live and, as a result, the landscape continues to shift daily.

ICE's insights paper examines attitudes towards future public life in order to draw inferences around what the shape of infrastructure provision might need to look like.

It draws on YouGov polling data highlighting that, after the Covid-19 lockdown measures have been lifted:

  • 61% of UK adults support increasing the frequency of remote working
  • 44% of UK adults are likely to avoid travelling on public transport networks
  • In London 61% are likely to avoid using the Underground

The data also suggests that 48% of UK adults think social distancing measures should continue on public transport even after the pandemic is over.

Do planned infrastructure investments square with shifting public attitudes?

If the sentiment captured in this data does play out and there is a concerted shift towards remote working, coupled with long-term reductions in the use of public transport, then the knock-on effects for planned investment in infrastructure are likely to be significant.

The data points towards a future of greater remote living and working. Arguably one that requires enhanced communications capability, faster broadband and digital connectivity. Will the projects and programmes that are currently coming down the National Construction and Infrastructure Pipeline deliver this?

Call for evidence

The insights paper published today is supporting a wider call for evidence that ICE launched last week on behalf of the Infrastructure Client Group. This too is focused on understanding what the UK’s future infrascuture requirements will be.

The questions contained within the call for evidence are as follows:

  1. What other factors, or combination of factors, will determine attitudes to public life as we transition to a new normal?
  2. What other systemic changes, driven by lessons learned during the lockdown period, can we expect to be important as part of the new normal?
  3. Are our assumptions of the new priorities for infrastructure correct?
  4. What other changes to infrastructure provision will be needed and what assumptions sit behind that need?
  5. Have we made the correct assumptions on the changes in delivery that will be required, to deliver infrastructure as part of the new normal?
  6. What are the intermediate steps required to move us towards these new approaches to delivery?
  7. What other fundamental shifts are required to deliver concrete and long-lasting change in how we operationalise to deliver infrastructure to achieve societal requirements?

Read the Insights Paper

  • Ben Goodwin, lead policy manager at ICE