Improved infrastructure to boost economic growth across the UK and meet climate goals is both achievable and affordable if the right policy steps are taken now, according to the government’s independent advisers on infrastructure strategy.
The second National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA2) – a five yearly review conducted by the National Infrastructure Commission – sets out a programme of transformation for the country’s energy, transport and other key networks over the next 30 years. As a member of the National Infrastructure Commission, LDA Design’s Alister Kratt has been involved in the preparation of the report and in its focus on Transformative Design.
NIA2’s recommendations include the need for major schemes to embed design principles throughout the project lifecycle, using guidance to be developed by the Commission’s design group. It also reiterates the importance of board level design champions for all major projects, setting out a number of responsibilities for such leaders, including:
- embedding a design culture from the very earliest stages, including when setting a project’s brief and its desired outcomes
- identifying multiple beneficial outcomes, based on a sound understanding of place, community, environment and economic context, going further than simply providing operationally efficient infrastructure
- developing a structured design process that facilitates meaningful local consultation, provides a framework for early consideration of environmental issues, and ‘de-risks’ projects.
The report highlights the value of place plans, which can offer the opportunity for greater public involvement in land use decisions. Noting the success of such plans in Wales and Scotland, the Assessment suggests that “as the number of infrastructure projects increases over the coming years, this may provide opportunities to draw several projects into a single community impact area to allow for aggregated outcomes via a place plan”.
Among a range of cross-cutting recommendations, the Commission also recommends that public spending frameworks for infrastructure are reformed to encourage more effective project management.
Sadie Morgan, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Design Group, said: “Good design can solve multiple problems and crucially support a greater quality of community engagement – which means projects can often be delivered more quickly.
“There will need to be a large number of major infrastructure projects built in the next twenty years. We must take the opportunity to ensure these are fit for purpose, resilient and are in sympathy with their surroundings. A good design process, embedded from the start of the project, will seek opportunities to mitigate climate change and improve the quality of life for people who live and work nearby.”
Alister Kratt, LDA Design’s Head of Infrastructure and member of the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) Design Group, said:
“It’s been a pleasure to work with a number of the National Infrastructure Design Group team in the preparation of the NIA2 report and our focus on Transformational Design.
“The review recognises the opportunities from infrastructure if we have good design process and early engagement with local communities. Importantly, it highlights the value of Place Plans, which mean that instead of taking individual projects in isolation, you take a more proactive, coordinated, regional approach.”
The report draws on two years of analysis, expert engagement and public research, resulting in what Commission Chair Sir John Armitt labels “probably the most comprehensive assessment yet of the infrastructure costs associated with supporting regional growth and reaching net zero”.
The Commission calculates that government’s commitment to a sharp increase in public sector investment in infrastructure to around £30 billion per year will need to be sustained until 2040. Meanwhile, private sector investment will need to increase from around £30-40 billion over the last decade to £40-50 billion in the 2030s and 2040s.
Attracting this investment to the UK in the face of global competition will require a new approach, says the Commission:
- Policy stability: setting out a clear plan and sticking to it, to lend certainty to investors and help build up supply chains
- Pro-investment regulation: clear guidance from government on priorities, investment ahead of need and business models to support emerging technologies
- Speeding up the planning system for major projects, particularly energy transmission schemes: with clearer community benefits in return for hosting key infrastructure.
Government is expected to respond formally to the Assessment within 12 months.
Photo credit: Ben Osbourne Photography / LDA Design