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New podcast goes ‘Beyond Brunel’ to unlock South West vision

07 February 2023

Industry leaders and experts from across the region discuss the future of infrastructure and its role in achieving net zero.

New podcast goes ‘Beyond Brunel’ to unlock South West vision
The 40-minute-long podcast episode, presented by Christopher Ackland, sees special guests talk about infrastructure in the South West. Image credit: SWIP

Industry leaders and experts from across South West England have contributed to a new podcast series about the future of infrastructure in the region and its role in achieving net zero targets.

Famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, helped shape the South West, creating some of the region’s most iconic and enduring infrastructure. But what does the South West need, in future, to meet the unprecedented challenges posed by the nature and climate emergencies?

The new podcast series, Beyond Brunel, explores the role of infrastructure in the South West’s transition to net zero carbon by 2050. All while improving people’s lives, helping the region to become more productive, and protecting nature and the environment.

Commissioned and devised by the South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP) with support from ICE South West, Beyond Brunel brings together infrastructure leaders and industry experts for wide-ranging discussions on the transformation of the region’s infrastructure system.

Entitled Innovation and Productivity, the first episode features the following special guests:

  • Jane Austin, director of engineering and asset management for the Wales and Western Region, Network Rail
  • Andrew Page-Dove, operational control director, National Highways
  • Natalie Bird, net zero and carbon management consultant, Mott MacDonald
  • Bryony Chetwode, stakeholder advisor and secretary, Travelwatch Southwest

The series is presented by Christopher Ackland, vice chair of the ICE South West Regional Committee.

‘We can’t just build our way to a net zero future’

Brunel shaped the South West through grand infrastructure projects, but we can’t just build our way to a net zero future, said Ackland.

“As an engineer, I’m inspired by the opportunities that Brunel’s ingenuity created for the South West, however, our guests focus on a new kind of infrastructure revolution which will help our region respond to the climate crisis, changes in demographic and social behaviors,” he said.

Ackland suggested that the conversations will appeal to anyone “keen to understand infrastructure challenges and how those working in the industry are thinking about the future.”

The South West Vision 2050 report

The series accompanies the South West Vision 2050 report, which uses the podcast discussions as a basis for examining what the region needs to do to achieve an effective, forward-facing infrastructure system.

beyond brunel podcast launch event
Christopher Ackland (WSP), Miranda Housden (ICE South West), Peter Kydd and Paula Hewitt (SWIP) at the launch of the Beyond Brunel podcast and South West Vision 2050 on Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol. Image credit: SWIP

The report, produced by WSP on behalf of SWIP and ICE South West, identifies four areas for action, three key asks of political leaders and five big questions for defining future needs.

The report reveals that much of the thinking needed to identify how to improve the lives of those within the region has already been done. However, much more progress is required on committing investment to infrastructure projects that take a long-term view of people, place, and the environment.

Political cycles, siloed working, and past practices have guided the approach to infrastructure, the report warns.

But infrastructure leaders and professionals now have an opportunity to put the response to climate change and the needs of nature and society at the heart of decision making.

The report says it’s up to those living and working in the South West to act on personal and professional pledges, while organisations need to support the development of skills fit for the future.

It calls on the industry to better leverage the power of partnerships to create an informed and cohesive regional voice on infrastructure.

Hearing what regional infrastructure leaders and experts have to say

Peter Kydd, outgoing chair of SWIP, explained that the report’s objective was to shine a light on how to get to the future, rather than be prescriptive about a preferred portfolio of specific construction projects.

Kydd said: “What better way to explore this than to put together our regional infrastructure leaders and experts in a room with a microphone and hear what they have to say.

“The South West Vision 2050 brings together this testimony with other evidence and case studies to provide insights for achieving our future infrastructure goals with ambition, urgency, efficiency, and co-ordination.”

The Beyond Brunel podcast and South West Vision 2050 report were launched on Thursday 2 February onboard Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol.

south west vision launch workshop
Civil engineers and Infrastructure professionals came together for a workshop at the launch event to discuss the impact of the cost of living crisis on efforts to transition the South West’s infrastructure to net zero. Image credit: SWIP

Continuing conversation with local communities and infrastructure leaders

ICE South West director, Miranda Housden, said that what stands out in the podcast and the new report is the focus on the end user.

“How do we better identify and meet the needs of people in the South West with infrastructure planning and decision making? The podcast is a starting point, and we hope to continue the conversation with local communities and infrastructure leaders to ensure the region is not left behind in the net zero transition,” Housden said.

The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and the report can be downloaded from the SWIP website.

A new episode of the Beyond Brunel podcast will be available each month along with a set of case studies showing examples of infrastructure innovations and projects already underway across the South West.

  • Lidia Pearce, communications lead at ICE South West