The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has challenged the UK government to review its current approach to delivering and maintaining infrastructure in the face of global climate change.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pledged to make infrastructure one of the defining areas of accomplishment of his time in office, realising it is critical for competing in a global economy. The ICE has said similarly that the UK cannot afford to settle for infrastructure which does not meet today’s challenges.
In its State of the Nation scorecard assessment of the UK’s infrastructure, the ICE has highlighted issues of availability and resilience as future challenges for the government and industry.
Keith Clarke, ICE vice president and chair of the Project Steering Group, highlighted in particular the impact of climate change. As the 2013/14 winter floods showed, this issue will place increasing pressure on infrastructure networks, which he said are simply not resilient enough.
Clarke added that government, and not the private sector, is responsible for setting expectations and standards for resilience. The lack of resilience in UK infrastructure is highlighted in the report by the low grades given to flood management, energy and local transport networks.
As well as underinvestment in flood management infrastructure, local road networks are also suffering, which is having an impact on local communities and businesses as well as the environment.
The report said resilience should be embedded into the criteria used as a basis for making decisions on priority infrastructure projects. This will help new infrastructure become future-proofed and help to maintain the current infrastructure stock.
With an increasing number of extreme weather events on the horizon, it will also become more difficult and cost ineffective to operate all infrastructure networks, at all times, in all conditions.
Engineers are vital to the development of a more resilient infrastructure network and the report makes several recommendations in this regard.
It suggests engineering professionals should simplify and speed up their standards change process utilising the UK’s deep and proven skills to drive delivery of efficient and innovative infrastructure that will save costs, time and carbon.
Dedicated multi-disciplinary engineering teams, meanwhile, should be seconded directly into the latter stages of significant research projects with the task of implementing the benefits from academic research, so that they can be practically and efficiently applied to meet the UK’s infrastructure needs.
Although better than in 2010, when the last report was released, energy infrastructure still only scores a C.
Over the next decade, around a fifth of the UK’s electricity generating capacity (fossil and nuclear) is expected to be retired, putting further pressure on de-rated capacity margins which are at four per cent at peak demand periods.
With respect to strategic transport, the costs of congestion could more than double between 2005 and 2025 to £36 billion unless timely action is taken. Rail passengers travelled 21 billion miles in 2010/11, which is almost double the figure for 2000/01. In aviation, UK airport delays are above the European average with significant capacity challenges in the south east of England likely without new runaways.
Local transport reveals more concerns as maintenance investment in local roads has declined by £150 million since 2007.This has left one-third of local roads in urgent need of attention.
The report concludes that government and industry must now be prepared to make tough choices – with respect to value for money, availability and resilience – to ensure the country is equipped to meet the needs of society and the environment.
The ICE will use the report as a key tool to support their goal of embedding its recommendations on infrastructure investment into the manifestos of the major UK parties in the lead up to the UK general election in May 2015.