As he delivered his latest Autumn Statement, chancellor George Osborne once again highlighted investment in decent modern infrastructure across the UK as central to meeting the challenge of “equipping Britain to compete in the modern global economy”.
Clearly, for the first time in decades and in the face of sluggish growth and slower than anticipated recovery from recession, the UK government is now fully committed to investing in the nation’s transport systems, power supplies, communications networks and water supplies to boost efficiency and competitiveness.
It is good news for civil engineers and infrastructure professionals who, let’s face it, have been making the point increasingly forcefully in the years since the start of the recent global economic downturn. As this Infrastructure 2013 report makes clear, the scale of opportunity across the numerous sectors that make up the UK’s complex infrastructure network is vast.
We are a nation blessed by an extraordinary Victorian legacy of rail and water assets and by 20th Century road and power networks. Yet as we move deeper into the 21st century it is clear that our failure to properly invest in maintenance renewal and enhancement of these assets is now seriously hindering our ability to grow as a nation both economically and socially.
This situation is both unacceptable and unsustainable. As we see across the globe, the population is growing and becoming increasingly urbanised. Our demand for power, communications technology and transport convenience continues to grow.
The challenge for infrastructure professionals is to meet this demand while also balancing the pressures of limited public funding, skills and resources and the need to mitigate against the ongoing threat of climate change.
We now have the Treasury backed National Infrastructure Plan and we have a pipeline of potential projects and a stated central government will to cut through all traditional planning and financing blockages to make these plans a reality.
The profession’s task is now to ensure that these fine words, aspirations and good intentions actually deliver the infrastructure needed to secure our future. It is a critical moment for infrastructure delivery - get it right and the nation’s future will be safe; get it wrong and the rest of the world will quickly overtake and leave the UK behind.