The UK is at a major crossroads for decision making about key infrastructure provision – not just transport infrastructure, but energy, housing, water, waste and public services. And future infrastructure provision may require a radical departure from what has been done in the past.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the discussions about meeting energy needs over the next few decades, where demand is higher than ever, but traditional methods of power generation are no longer practical. As a result, nuclear power is firmly back on the agenda together with alternative, sustainable options.
The government's recent Energy White Paper put all of these issues up for discussion, but how many civil engineers have joined in the debate? Balfour Beatty group managing director and chairman of Constructing Excellence's new Infrastructure Forum Andrew McNaughton, says: "Civil engineers should be recognised in the UK as a knowledgeable community. The kind of decisions that people are making in central government should be made on an informed basis and on the basis of what can be delivered."
With this in mind, the Infrastructure Forum is sponsoring a survey to find out more about the views of the civil engineering community on energy provision and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The survey will run until the autumn, and the results will be presented and discussed at a debate during Civils 2007 in November.
"Constructing Excellence is a representative body of the industry, but we want to take the opportunity to engage with a much wider community," explains McNaughton. Our goal is to develop a coordinated response to the issue of energy. There is a need for detailed planning and funding in central government, and civil engineers should have a huge input into that because we understand the impact. The government could make a decision to build 10 new nuclear power stations, but they have to understand the context: Who's going to deliver it? Where are the skills going to come from?"
So, while the survey asks respondents to give their personal views, the overall response should give a very important indication of what this informed community feels about the issue of future energy generation. It also gives individuals the opportunity to put their views to government decision-makers. Constructing Excellence is recognised in government circles as a respected industry body, and has already held talks with the former DTi (now replaced by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) on this and other subjects.
Members of its Infrastructure Forum will be taking part in events throughout the three days of Civils 2007, including the conference and technical presentations.
To make your voice heard in the energy debate, go to the Civils website, www.civils.com and follow the links to the energy survey.
Construction research organisation CIRIA is presenting three seminars at Civils 2007 aimed at highlighting three major issues challenging clients, designers and consultants. The first, entitled "Sustainable asset management for transport infrastructure", will look at innovative techniques and materials that can be used to maintain both hard (eg bridges) and soft (eg embankments) infrastructure assets while meeting the sustainability agenda.
In the second seminar, experts will tackle the thorny issue of managing flora and fauna on infrastructure projects, including Japanese knotweed, New Zealand Pygmyweed and Giant Hogweed. It will look at the legislation and management implications for asset owners and their contractors, developers and consultants.
The third seminar will focus on sustainable management of ground gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds. It will explore some of the problems practitioners have in monitoring and sampling and suggest way in which these can be improved.
To find out more go to www.civils.com.