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  • You are here:ICE

Engineers must lead post-Brexit infrastructure debate

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With apologies to non- UK readers, but there can only really be one subject for this month’s Lighthouse – Brexit.  

The result of the 23 June vote was clear: a vote to leave the European Union (EU).  The final outcome and what that means for civil engineering is far less certain. At the ICE we think there are three things to do. 

Now:  First we must all make the case for infrastructure. Since the 2008 financial crisis, governments have placed infrastructure at the heart of economic strategy. 

European flag

European flag

The National Infrastructure Delivery Plan and its counterparts in the devolved nations are well established. Major projects and programmes across Britain have received the green light. But we cannot assume that the incoming prime minister will share their predecessor’s enthusiasm. We must prove how investing in infrastructure drives growth and spreads opportunity across the country. We must demonstrate that continuity of investment via mechanisms like Highways England’s five year Roads Investment Strategy allows the supply chain to innovate and provide better value for money for clients and the public.  Every one of us has a part to play in making this case. The ICE website provides supporting information. 

Next: The government will have to negotiate the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. It is vital that politicians and officials conducting these negotiations understand what our sector needs to thrive. 

Under Sir John Armitt’s leadership, the ICE has been central to convening two groups of industry leaders. For construction we are drawing on our influence and reputation for impartiality to bring together organisations and industry leaders to provide a single voice – building on the coalition of the willing that is currently delivering a 30 year assessment of our infrastructure needs. 

The Royal Academy of Engineering is leading a similar group, bringing together all of the 35 engineering institutions. Both will offer a concise, coherent analysis of UK needs. The key issues will include skills, codes and standards, attracting investment and maintaining our world class research base.  

Then: Brexit means change.  Change means both risk and opportunity. Alongside all of the above we need to turn our minds to what kind of industry we will have outside of the EU.  In a UK that is embracing devolution, where should key powers around infrastructure be exercised?  

Should we keep or change existing laws and regulations? Who should we be targeting for investment into our built environment.   We, the profession, must shed our inhibitions and lead this debate.  Not for us, but for the society we serve.


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