The Infrastructure Footprint

The announcement last year that the Government was establishing the National Infrastructure Commission (a policy proposal developed under Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour party in the previous term of Parliament) was greeted positively by the many large players in the world of infrastructure.

The appointment of Lord Adonis to the helm was also roundly welcomed – a well known champion of major infrastructure projects who had invested significant personal and political capital in HS2, amongst other projects.

Following his appointment, Adonis set to work on the top three priorities:

  • transforming the connectivity of the northern cities, including high speed rail (HS3)
  • setting priorities for future large-scale investment in London’s public transport infrastructure
  • how to ensure investment in energy infrastructure can meet future demand in the most efficient way.

In addition to these top priorities, the Commission has brought together a task force to consult on and develop a “vision” of infrastructure in 2050, effectively a shopping list of issues, projects and longer term priorities for the UK. The task force will publish a report in the autumn, taking into account factors such as climate change, population growth and technological change.

Now for me, this is where the really interesting stuff is hiding. And you – we – have an opportunity to shape the future through the consultation.

Sir John Armitt, National Needs Assessment Task Force Chairman (not to mention current President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and key player in the development of Labour’s proposals for the creation of the National Infrastructure Commission) said the panel, “a coalition of leading organisations”, is united in sharing “a common goal – the development of a long term infrastructure strategy which drives the economic growth necessary to enhance the UK’s position in the global economy, support a high quality of life and enable a shift to a low carbon future.”

And so, the birth of the pathway to sustainable infrastructure, infrastructure with a smaller footprint, infrastructure that cuts the mustard in social, economic and environmental terms… infrastructure that performs more than just a basic service or function. Infrastructure that saves, helps, contributes and reduces.

For me, this provides a golden and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to genuinely embed resource efficiency, and deliver huge strides towards a truly circular economy. As some of you will have heard from me before, the one bit of the Government’s current waste policy that promises so much and yet has so far failed miserably to deliver is paragraph 103 on page 35 of the review – through the potential to implement and embed resource efficiency and sustainability across the Government estate and local government activities, and through improving procurement. Add this to an extended voluntary agreement with the construction sector, expanding on the “Sustainable Construction Task Group Action Plan” (remember?), and Robert’s your mother’s brother.

Meanwhile, recent research into public attitudes to infrastructure demonstrates a high level of implicit concern for the environment, awareness of climate change impacts and prioritisation of “environmental infrastructure.” In short, the public will likely support infrastructure with a smaller footprint.

So, the Government has a golden opportunity – we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – via the National Infrastructure Commission to ensure that sustainability principles are embedded, that efficiency of materials, services and outcomes is in-built. Infrastructure investment really can deliver concrete (pun!) outcomes.

Get your comments in by the end of February, and send a clear message to the National Infrastructure Commission that resource efficiency and sustainability matters, can be delivered and will add to the economic prosperity of the UK.

This piece has been reproduced courtesy of CIWM Journal

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