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Lighthouse | Looking to the future of infrastructure

The heart of infrastructure’s function is to provide a public good, to deliver a service which allows users to go about their lives in the best way.

To ensure that we do this, there are two important features we should consider when it comes to what the public want from infrastructure. Beyond it providing an effective service, it seems fair to argue that the public want well-funded and affordable infrastructure that is safe to use. Nothing too unreasonable. However, living up to these expectations is not without its challenges, and it is fair to say recent events might have people raising an eyebrow.

The UK’s imminent exit from the European Union (EU) is unsettling the economy and has the potential to undermine long-term investment in our infrastructure. The process has raised legitimate questions about future financing streams and the ongoing affordability of key assets, such as railways, roads, water pipes and energy networks.

Events like the tragedies of  the Grenfell fire and the Genoa bridge collapse have demonstrated what can happen when things go wrong. In light of Grenfell, it is right that the ICE assessed and explored the long-term safety of large infrastructure assets.

Two reports

Recognising that these are important issues facing the sector, ICE this month will publish two policy reports examining how to continue adequately financing and funding infrastructure and mitigating the risk of its failure.

The 2018 State of the Nation report to be published on 18 October focuses on investment and will consider how the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs can be financed and funded in, what could be, an uncertain future.

Freeway 101838810 crop

Freeway 101838810 crop

One area of uncertainty that Brexit has thrown up concerns the European Investment Bank (EIB). This low-cost finance option plays a huge role in the infrastructure sector, having made critical investments in areas such as social housing and offshore wind generation. The report argues that should the UK lose access to the EIB, the government will need to find a replacement for this low-cost finance option.

Importantly, the report will recognise that work must be done to improve not just the availability of finance, but infrastructure funding. This is particularly true in sectors like roads, where future revenue streams tied to Vehicle Excise Duty and Fuel Duty are likely to fall as our use of electric vehicles rises.

The In Plain Sight report to be published on 15 October follows last year’s interim report and finds that, although low, the risk of infrastructure failure in the UK still exists, and the ICE and the industry have a responsibility to mitigate against this.

Three core areas

The report sets out the need for improvement in three core areas: lesson sharing, competence and governance. If the sector is to learn from near misses (or sadly, actual catastrophes) then a more robust system of lesson sharing must be introduced – enabling information to be shared in a timely manner and without restriction on detail.

Likewise, to prevent incidents from happening in the first place, engineers and their organisations must continue to be competent. This means constantly evolving training programmes, making sure CPD offers the latest thinking, and compliance with, and promotion of, the ICE’s Code of Practice.

It is our intention that the sentiment expressed in these two reports is not forgotten past the point of publication. We want the recommendations made to be implemented by policymakers – but more than that, we want the industry to embrace them and work with us to help create infrastructure that is safe and well-funded.

 

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