Replacing UK infrastructure – a chance to think big
The UK knows it must replace its ageing infrastructure, but still has to agree a strong vision for how it should be done. Now a National Needs Assessment, facilitated by the Institution of Civil Engineers, is leading the debate, focused on transport, utilities and energy needs for the next 35 years.
In contributing to the debate, LDA Design has argued that it is important to always test the bigger business case when prioritising infrastructure projects. Infrastructure investment should work hard, optimising the local economy and improving quality of life and not merely meet operational criteria. A flood defence scheme which provides new cycling routes and creates new habitats presents a more compelling case to communities that extends beyond functional requirements, bringing for example health benefits and opportunities for leisure and tourism. A project like Swansea Tidal Lagoon is attractive for the ways in which it would enable urban regeneration through the reimagining of Swansea and the surrounding area, providing a legacy not only in power generation, but through a bigger vision that captures a number of opportunities in a coordinated piece of master thinking and masterplanning.
We have warned about the dangers from a narrow focus on ‘hard engineering’ outcomes for water supplies and flood defences. This can prove needlessly expensive. Softer infrastructure must always be part of the equation: retaining rainwater in upland areas, for example, is one obvious way to minimise the scale of flood defences needed downstream.
The UK cannot afford to continue with its prevailing, rather disdainful, view of our planning system as a barrier or constraint to securing infrastructure projects that provide a positive legacy. It is the best – and only – tool we have for positive, strategic enabling for all the major spatial implications arising from new development. So it is critical that national infrastructure decision-making is properly integrated with spatial planning and coordination of investment.
Finally, it requires imagination to bring the public into the decision-making process, and too much so-called “engagement” is done by rote. We need to see storytelling, graphics, film and digital media. The No Regrets guide, which LDA Design produced on behalf of the Environment Agency and the Southern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee shows how to interest local people in the long-term adaptation of coastal areas to sea level rise and climate change.
The National Needs Assessment project is supported by the National Infrastructure Commission and its report will be published in the autumn. LDA Design is attending the National Needs Assessment Conference Engagement Series at KPMG during April, hosted by Sir John Armitt.
Read more here: Response to National Needs Assessment