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Infrastructure: could do better

ICE is majoring on the reuse of efuent as drinking water in its annual State of the Nation report.

This year's State of the Nation report from the ICE shows little improvement in the nation's infrastructure.

Lack of investment in energy and water, both headline grabbers over the past 12 months, fuels much of the criticism.

And the ICE's list of most needed projects is evenly spread across the sectors, albeit mostly focused on the south of the country (see map).

Water resources and specically efuent re-use are at the top of the agenda (see news).

Some water engineers say waste water is an under exploited resource that could avert a water crisis in the south east.

Chemically and physically there is no reason why sewage cannot be treated to Drinking Water Inspectorate standards.

But the problem is not one of physics.

The ICE is well aware that the public may find the idea of deriving drinking water from sewage hard to swallow.

'Public perception is a big issue for water companies, there would obviously be considerable consultation required, ' says ICE water board chairman John Lawson.

In the meantime, flood defences also need urgent attention.

'Flood defence schemes are becoming harder to progress and government investment in flood defence schemes fell in 2006 with no increases in sight for the next two years, ' says the report.

The ICE calls for this year's £15M budget cut made by the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to be reinstated. It also wants investment in flood mapping, warning systems and flood risk management to almost double to over £1bn in the long term.

The report highlights the threat of tidal storm surges to the east coast. And it asks why the development of the latest shoreline management plans, for planning coastal defence strategy, has been delayed.

'It is important that progress is made soon so that decisions can be made on long term sustainable coastal defence strategies, ' it says.

In the wider water sector, the ICE highlights the skills shortage blighting the industry.

'The water industry is struggling to meet the capacity of staff required, everyone is currently advertising for water engineers, ' says ICE Water Board chair John Lawson.

'A lot of work was done based on the ICE report on skills in the flood sector three years ago and this led to the creation of the Flood Skills Forum, ' he says.

'An array of measures is now in place and we need to do the same for the water industry. It would be reasonable to suggest that this could perhaps be led by (water company trade body) Water UK working with DEFRA.' For a number of sectors, change has been a buzz word.

Richard Lambert, who wrote the airports section of the State of the Nation report, says five areas are changing within the sector. These are: commercial operation, security, ownership, governmental policy and environmental concerns.

'All these things go together to create further uncertainty, ' he adds. 'This needs to be ironed out if airports are going to realise their ambitious growth targets.' The ICE wants two things to happen to reduce the uncertainty. Firstly, better data on aviation's environmental impact is needed so that industry and government can develop common policies.

'There is a long way to go before atmospheric science gets hard and fast results, ' says Lambert.

Secondly, the full implications of the recent acquisition of BAA by Spanish giant Ferrovial need to be assessed.

'Ferrovial will review spending plans and we need to know what inuence this will have on timetables and infrastructure, ' says Lambert. 'There is the additional concern of the private sector providing national infrastructure and the dilemmas associated with this.' Lambert adds that the way people choose to y is still changing. This will inuence how airports are managed, as will legislation and changes in practice arising from security concerns.

'Security and low-cost airlines are re-writing the rule book dayby-day. Everything ve years ago has been thrown out the window already, ' he says.

Waste should be redened as a resource, to account for its potential to be recycled or even converted into energy, says State of the Nation.

ICE waste board member Bob Lisney says that public authorities should stop planning for the creation of waste management facilities, and consider creating community resource facilities - which could include waste to energy plants or recycling centres - instead. This might help speed the development of the 1,700 centres Britain needs by 2012.

'When you do that, the community tends to accept things better because you're trying to get the best out of resources rather than just treating waste, ' says Lisney.

In ports, the State of the Nation team wants trafc to be distributed more evenly between regional destinations. Most of the UK's freight arrives in the south east, but half of it ends up north of Birmingham.

ICE maritime board member and Bristol Port engineering director John Chaplin says the solution lies in promoting regional ports.

'Our issue is not so much a north-south divide, but more the government's focus on the South East, ' he adds.

'There are opportunities in other parts of the country, like Bristol, Teesport and Liverpool ports. Greater use of regional ports would be a more efcient system of distribution, relieving congestion in the south east and potentially setting the foundations for the revival of inland waterways, ' he says.

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