On 23 March, in what has become something of a springtime tradition, the ICE once again hosted the launch of a new edition of the UK government’s National Infrastructure Plan (NIP).
Following last year’s election Lord Deighton has passed the ministerial baton to another Goldman Sachs alumnus Lord O’Neill. He unveiled a NIP that has become NIDP, with the “D” standing for Delivery. Instead of an annual document, we now have a plan that runs for the five years up to 2021.
Standing back from the blizzard of headline numbers it is clear the government remains wedded to the idea of better infrastructure as a key plank of its efforts to improve economic performance and spread wealth around the country. The five year horizon of the plan, in combination with the National Infrastructure Commission’s long term planning remit – and developments such as Highways England’s Roads Investment Strategy – are all symptomatic of what is a genuine effort to break away from “stop-start”.
Here at the ICE we are responding. We are deep into our collaborative project to develop an independent 30 year view of the nation’s infrastructure needs.
This will be published in the autumn and handed to the Commission to support its own needs analysis.
The NIDP, however, also shines the spotlight on the industry –- clients and supply chain –- and makes it clear that performance has to improve. Project selection and initiation, procurement and delivery, upskilling and reskilling are all on the agenda.
There is real pressure on all parts of our industry to improve its productivity, practices and competencies
Elsewhere, earlier in March, the ICE was at the heart of this year’s Ecobuild event, hosting the Infrastructure Revolution hub.
Here, some of the brightest thinkers from across the industry explored the future in person and on film.
As highlighted in New Civil Engineer’s daily news, Arup director Tim Chapman faced a grilling from a robot and made it clear that he thought artificial intelligence would lead to sweeping changes in how infrastructure is designed and delivered.
Bam Nuttall chief executive Steve Fox and WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff development director Rachel Skinner also went head to head on autonomous vehicles and came out in agreement that the profession needs to show leadership and shape how our roads are developed to deal with what looks like an inevitable change.
What can we take from all of this? Yes, there is a high demand for new and upgraded infrastructure, but there is real pressure on all parts of our industry to improve its productivity, practices and competencies, and ultimately deliver much more value to clients and the public.
At the same time, big technology driven change is starting to reshape how infrastructure is designed, delivered and operated – and just as importantly what people expect from it.
A broadly based and self-confident civil engineering profession has a bright future in this world.
We have a unique mix of deep technical knowledge, commercial skills and strategic vision. Just as importantly we have the capabilities to integrate multiple disciplines to get the job done.