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Viewpoint | Uncertain Times

While 2018 will be a great year for all of us celebrating the ICE’s bicentenary, we face an uncertain future regarding infrastructure investment in Wales.

keith jones

keith jones

As we point out all too often, there is a strong correlation between the condition of a country’s infrastructure and its economy and quality of life. Wales needs a clear vision for infrastructure.

Government funding is passed from the UK Government to the Welsh Government via a settlement – using the much debated Barnet formula – and passed to the 22 Welsh councils.

However, as a result of pressures on local authority finance for protected services of health, education and social services, plus increased cuts overall, the amount available for our vital infrastructure asset management – and new infrastructure – is dropping.

This is despite an additional £1.2bn allocated to Wales in the November 2017 Budget.

Of course, we also have to face the very real issues arising from Brexit. Wales is a net recipient of European funding, which has traditionally funded infrastructure development. Plugging the gap will be a very real challenge going forward, particularly for flood risk management.

Wales suffers from coastal and fluvial flooding, due to the country’s long coastline and topography. Residential and commercial properties have long suffered from floods, some with tragic outcomes.

The Welsh Government has addressed many of the areas at risk, and we bring together experts annually for our flooding conference, but we must look to address the continuing challenges of decreasing funding and the increasing impacts of climate change.

We must also look at skills and funding. The Apprenticeship Levy is in place but, at the time of writing, there is no direct funding of training or other apprenticeship initiatives in Wales.

The Autumn Budget promised investment in construction skills across the UK and the pipeline of major projects looks strong, but it takes a long time to train a civil engineer and we must make sure that we have sufficient skills in place to cope with demand.

As well as training new civil engineers, we all need to keep our own skills up to date. It has long been an issue that major projects draw away the talent but when the projects in the pipeline commence, we must be able to satisfy the demand.

On a positive note, Welsh projects continue to demonstrate clear excellence, as can be seen at our annual engineering awards.

Our George Gibby Award category winner – for projects over £3M – Radyr Weir hydroelectric scheme in Cardiff is an excellent example; as is the A486 Llain to Synod Inn Improvement, the category winner for the Roy Edwards Award for schemes under £3M.

The Bill Ward Sustainability Award, and our nomination to ICE’s People’s Choice 2017, was awarded to Colwyn Bay Waterfront regeneration/coastal protection scheme in north Wales, partly for diverting an amazing 99.69% materials from landfill.

We face uncertain times, but we are looking forward, with confidence in the quality of our civil engineers across the nation and the rest of the UK.

● Keith Jones is director of ICE Wales Cymru

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