Our increasingly interconnected infrastructure assets requires the whole built environment sector to make some key changes.
ICE has today published a response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s Resilience Study scoping report setting out what needs to change to improve the UK’s infrastructure resilience.
The Institution has long advocated the need for improved infrastructure resilience. Future decades will present new challenges and changes to technology and society which will increase demand on the UK’s air, roads, rail, flood defence, energy, water and digital networks.
Climate change will see increased risk of flooding as temperatures warm and extreme weather events become more prevalent as a result. Population growth will require us to make more efficient use of existing infrastructure assets as well as taking smarter approaches to creating new provision.
Increasing technological development and digitisation will change the way we drive cars, monitor usage and maintenance and increase dependence on the power grid and internet services.
ICE has made three recommendations in its response.
1. A systems thinking approach
Core to meeting this challenge is a need to move towards greater adoption of systems thinking.
Too many infrastructure assets exist in isolation and there are a lack of common approaches and frameworks that promote cross-sector working.
This is important because much of infrastructure is linked in some way. Electrified rail is dependent on the power grid. Increased water use will impact on wastewater treatment. If a connected and autonomous transport network can be established, it will need always-on wireless data connectivity.
Increasingly, if one link in the chain fails, much of the infrastructure network could fail in a cascading effect.
2. Understanding public expectations of resilience
ICE also shared polling data on public attitudes to infrastructure performance, willingness to pay, and the desire to be informed from recent State of the Nation reports.
There is, however, a lack of available research on the public’s understanding of and attitude towards the need for enhanced resilience in future decades.
A better understanding is necessary as greater amounts of investment will be needed in the short term to meet challenges which may only occur decades ahead.
ICE has recommended that the Commission works with polling organisations and other experts to explore these issues so that the sector and clients, like the government, can better explain and encourage support for this long-term need.
3. Integrating governance and decision making
As highlighted in our latest report, State of the Nation 2019: Connecting Infrastructure with Housing, there's a need for regional infrastructure strategies to tie together potential synergies, overlapping resilience dependencies, budgets, funding streams and programmes.
Bringing together planning and delivery of social and economic infrastructure will mean that resources are used more efficiently and increase productivity.
A resilient nation
It's up to the whole built environment sector to make the case for more resilient infrastructure. Just as individuals rely on others, so, too, do our increasingly interconnected infrastructure assets.