Feeling valued and important are crucial to social cohesion; we all need a sense of belonging and to be widely connected.
When people and communities are excluded or where the gap between the so-called haves and have nots widens, society becomes more fragile. In the wake of the financial crisis, large sections of society have increasingly felt left behind, no longer receiving what they perceive as a fair share of the economic pie. To avoid aggravating this growing problem, everyone must be able to contribute and benefit from rising prosperity.
As an important driver and enabler of growth, infrastructure can help reduce financial inequality. Done well, it serves the many not the few and is built with the end users in mind and, with their full involvement, infrastructure will also foster social inclusion.
It’s good to talk
Making the transition to socially inclusive infrastructure will not be easy. To ensure a development fulfils its social, economic, cultural and environmental potential, the community needs to help shape its design. Engaging those affected, particularly often neglected groups, such as the young and old, minorities and those from deprived neighbourhoods can be difficult, as can understanding and addressing their concerns and aspirations. But it is worth taking the time to do so. People and communities tend to embrace and look after infrastructure they have influenced and are less likely to try to stop projects that take account of their views. Similarly, a development will only effectively meet the needs of users if their voice is heard early in the design process.
The Cancer Centre at London’s Guy’s Hospital was a truly collaborative project, with the voice of patients and local residents at its heart. The £160M facility opened in September 2016 and was designed with the patients, for the patients. It starts with convenience: the centre brings together under one roof treatments that were previously delivered across 13 different locations in eight buildings. The result is uch less wayfinding and travelling for vulnerable and often very ill people. Radiotherapy is conventionally housed in basements. But a subterranean facility does little for the emotional and psychological wellbeing of patients. The centre is the first in Europe to provide radiotherapy above ground, so that patients can see outside. Art, colour and cosy meeting areas all contribute to creating spaces that feel welcoming and positive rather than cold and clinical.
Guy’s cancer centre building hm5xdb
The building team also had regular contact with residents to ensure their lives were not affected too much by the building work. Also, local people were employed to work on the project, providing jobs and skills training, as well as the opportunity to feel they had contributed to something important.
For the Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust Patient Reference Group, the centre is a wonderful example of how having patients as the focus of design can produce uplifting infrastructure. And for the hospital’s project management organisation, Essentia, it is a showcase for what can be achieved by the NHS.
High Speed 2 (HS2), the high-speed rail link to be built between London and the west Midlands, is more controversial in some quarters than a new healthcare facility, but people are also at the centre of the design process. Those working on the project have been determined to engage local communities from the start, with the objective of benefiting the many, not just a few. And that is the purpose of the HS2 design panel, whose remit covers people, place and time. The focus of the people aspect is to create places that encourage diverse activities, provide access and promote inclusion. The panel is aiming to achieve these goals by engaging with local communities along the route and ensuring their views are front of mind for designers from the get go.
The things that make the difference
Social exclusion occurs when individuals or communities are prevented from participating in and benefiting fully from the economic and social life of society. There can be many reasons why they are shut out. Infrastructure can sometimes address these and help bring excluded communities back into the fold. Take the case of Rossington near Doncaster, a town built around one of Yorkshire’s most productive coal mines. Although the pit survived the 1980s, when many others were closed, output was severely cut and the town suffered serious economic decline, high unemployment and deprivation.
At one point, 11 of its 20 wards were in the bottom 10% of UK deprivation indices. The pit was finally closed in 2016. With the town’s reason for being removed, a new purpose had to be found. Rossington needed to attract investment on a large scale.
The Great Yorkshire Way, a £56M road linking the M18 with the A638 south of the town, offered the opportunity to unlock Rossington’s potential. From being a cut-off community, it is now well connected to the national motorway network. Employment and economic opportunities are being created at a 560,000m2, £500M new iPort inland freight distribution centre backed by developer Veridan.
Paying attention to small details when developing a project can be decisive in breaking down barriers to social and economic inclusion. Aberfan in Wales is infamous for the disaster in 1966 that killed 116 children and 28 adults.
Less well known is the economic decline that set in after the closure of Merthyr Vale Colliery in 1989.
Recent investment in flood protection, a new access road, bridge and footbridge that reconnect the communities of Merthyr Vale and Aberfan, has returned hope.
But it is not just the improved amenities that have made a difference. It is the community-oriented “add-ons”, which would not have happened without infrastructure, that have engaged and motivated local people.
The new footbridge provides easy access to the banks of the now healthy and biodiverse River Taff, while a new community facility will host local events.
A moral obligation
Importantly, inclusion defines the morality of a society and should be the primary consideration when developing infrastructure. That has rarely been case. Legislation has been necessary to ensure many buildings are accessible to those with poor mobility.
The industry should not need regulation to do what is right, however. It should always strive to provide inclusive environments.
Less than 8% of disabled people use wheelchairs, yet it is estimated that 12.9M people in the UK have limiting long-term illnesses, impairments or disabilities.
Some 45% of those are over the state pension age. By 2030 there are expected to be 20M people over the age of 65 and 6M over 80. A built environment needs to be created or adapted for people with a range of needs, including hearing or sight loss and/or a cognitive disability, as well as general physical issues that affect older members of society.
Currently, 20% of 12.9M people with disabilities have difficulty accessing transport; 54% shops; 35% hospitals, 21% doctors’ surgeries; and 21% theatres and cinemas. And the front doors of 84% of new homes are not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
Inclusive design would ensure level access to the entrances to buildings and transport vehicles.
Doors would be sufficiently wide to allow wheelchair access and allow enough space to enable wheelchairs to turn. Accessible lavatories and changing places would also be included.
A question of trust
Trust in business, media, government, and non-governmental organisations has been eroding for some time. The most recent Edelman Trust barometer found that trust in all four had declined further. Just 52% of respondents across the 28 countries surveyed said they trusted business to “do what is right”. Inequality is one reason a growing proportion of people mistrust companies, with many believing the odds are stacked in favour of the “haves”.
The UK is one of the most unequal nations in the developed world – the seventh least equal in the 35 countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development.
The average FTSE chief executive earns £5.3M a year, 386 times more than a worker on the UK national living wage. Someone on the average salary of £28,000 would take 160 years to earn the same amount. Inequality takes many other forms, but the financial contrast between highest and lowest earners starkly illustrates the gulf that many believe has opened in society.
Factoring an inequality impact assessment into every design brief would ensure infrastructure improves the life chances of the many, not just the few, and would go some way to addressing inequality.
The assessment would help ensure that projects support equality of opportunity and do not discriminate against or disadvantage different sections of society.
Mott MacDonald’s equality, diversity and inclusion sifting tool analyses schemes to identify which have the greatest equality impact. Its social impact forecasting tool helps to understand the social groups most likely to benefit from economic gains.
Trust could be strengthened if the way we value a project considers more than its return on investment. The traditional cost-benefit analysis that precedes every major project, from a rail line to a healthcare facility, tends to ignore the local impact, consequential employment, salary, gross value added (GVA) and investment benefits that would not otherwise have arisen.
It can result in some projects failing to make it off the drawing board, despite having the potential to widely benefit the local community and address inequality. Mott MacDonald’s transparent economic assessment model (TEAM) starts with a local analysis.
The Norwich Northern Distributor Road illustrates the importance of assessing the micro- economic impacts. It was given the go ahead even though the cost-benefit ratio was negative because TEAM identified that the scheme would create 5,230 net additional jobs, £1bn net additional GVA spread over 30 years and £966M in associated investments.
Businesses can go some way to restoring trust if their investment is focused on the communities they serve. Anglian Water is a major investor in infrastructure. The goal for One Alliance, the consortium responsible for designing and building the utility company’s capital construction programme, is to collaborate to make a positive difference to local life for everyone’s benefit. It is an approach pioneered in Wisbech to address high youth unemployment.
The seven firms in the alliance, including Mott MacDonald, are working jointly on initiatives to improve employability, create jobs and support education and training.
They have also a drawn up a proposal to reopen the rail line between the town and nearby Cambridge, which would provide young people in Wisbech with access to the wealth of education and employment opportunities just a short distance away.
Inclusive infrastructure involves putting community considerations front and centre, rather than treating them as ancillary to design and development processes. It requires everyone in the industry – government, investors, asset owners, investors, consultants, contractors and suppliers – to change the way in which they think about projects, what it means to add value and the way business is conducted.