Peter Hansford’s year as President of the ICE draws to a close next week. Antony Oliver meets Hansford in his final days in office to discuss his year and his achievements.
When Peter Hansford took up office as ICE President a year ago, one of his major goals was to help place the Institution at the centre of the debate about how the government delivers greater value for every public pound spent.
It is a goal that, he believes, has been unquestionably delivered. While accepting that the outcomes and actions that flow from the debate still have some way to run, he is clear that the ICE should be positioned at the heart of the process.
“We are at the top table now,” he says. “Government is now talking infrastructure whereas it hadn’t been before. We are seen as a key player and the independent voice on infrastructure, playing a central role and, crucially, government is listening.”
Hansford emphasises that building this relationship with senior government officials is vital for the future of the ICE. And he is quick to point out that the achievements over the last 12 months in this area of influence are not solely down to his role but the result of the effort put in by members working on the ICE expert panels providing the advice.
“I have learnt that when members are engaged they are satisfied”
“I have learnt a lot about working with government, and quite often it is frustrating as they can play by different rules,” he says.
“Our relationship has to be close in but also far away,” he explains, highlighting the fact that the government may not always agree with the advice it gets. “We are not an instrument of government but a critical friend - getting that relationship right takes work.”
Hansford is also aware that the ICE’s stated position or policy on specific issues is not necessarily the view of the entire membership.
High speed debate
The recent debate over ICE support for high speed rail is one such example.
“We said that high speed rail is important to this country and not all our members agree. But I’m not worried about that,” he says, pointing out that he is comfortable with the expert group process of setting the ICE’s policy.
“We have 80,000 members and they are not all going to agree on everything,” he says. “It is about promoting the importance of infrastructure for economic growth. Whether the route of High Speed 2 is precisely the right route I don’t know - I’ll let others solve that problem.”
Hansford says one of the highlights of his year in office has been his travels across the UK and around the world to meet members and see examples of well delivered infrastructure making a difference to society and driving economies.
“We are not an instrument of government but a critical friend”
The London 2012 Olympic Park; the A3 Hindhead Tunnel; the Caledonian Canal; Manchester’s new waste facility; sports complexes in Northern Ireland and Weymouth; the Redhayes Bridge in Exeter, among others. These are all projects that he describes as “fantastic” exemplars for the profession.
This week he returns from a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore but before that his global footprint included visits to Poland, Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China.
“What impressed me about Shanghai was how they can build an airport within three years of saying ‘let’s build an airport’,” he says, adding that while China is now beyond being a developing country, it is at a completely different point of infrastructure evolution compared to Europe.
“Different stages mean different rules apply,” he points out, acknowledging that the different political and social systems make comparison hard. “They have got a long way to go with quality whereas we need to do things with better value.”
And he should know about delivering value. Having worked closely with Treasury body Infrastructure UK on the formation of its recent action plan and chaired its infrastructure steering committee looking at why UK construction is so expensive, he has been at the heart of the discussion for nearly two years.
He will continue this role on behalf of the ICE after his presidency is complete, at least until 2014, when the work is finalised. He expects this work to have covered a huge amount of ground by then and to have come up with tangible actions.
Ensuring that every ICE member is engaged with this work and reaps the benefits of the outcomes is vital, he says.
“What I have learnt is that when members are engaged they are satisfied and when they are less engaged they are less satisfied,” says Hansford. “It’s about improving communication with members and about making sure that we are relevant.”
However, he maintains that the Institution’s real task is to be outward looking and focusing on what its public and private stakeholders think of it.
“I think it has been no accident that the so many key government-led infrastructure documents have been launched here,” says Hansford, highlighting events held by government in One Great George Street to launch the Infrastructure Implementation Plan and the Infrastructure Steering Committee. “Long may this continue.”