Autumn publication for Infrastructure national needs assessment

Sir John Armitt speaking at the final evidence session of the National Needs Assessment.

October will see the publication of a national needs assessment for UK infrastructure, ICE president John Armitt said this week. Speaking to industry, business, academic and environmental leaders at the final evidence session of the National Needs Assessment (NNA), an independent assessment of the UK’s infrastructure needs to 2050, Armitt said that a report will be published this autumn and provided to the National Infrastructure Commission to support its own needs analysis.

After gathering evidence from hundreds of organisations and individuals across the UK, Armitt said the conclusions when published would “better inform critical, long-term decision making on infrastructure, and facilitate choices that are strategic”.

Following a nationwide call for evidence, a series of evidence gathering events and workshops have taken place across the UK. Well over 400 organisations and individuals from across industry, business, environment, economic, academic communities and more, have engaged with the NNA and contributed evidence during the process. 600 people from the wider built environment, legal, political and professional services, and members of the public, have also engaged and shared views via Twitter, Armitt said.

“The response has been huge, and has provided us with a wealth of evidence and expertise. I am delighted the NNA has been embraced in this way,” said Armitt, who claimed that the collaborative nature of the project had created a real a sense of excitement around the issue which would “benefit society, grow the economy and drive the shift to a low carbon future”. 

Armitt said that the evidence sessions had got to the heart of core factors that will impact on future infrastructure needs in the next 35 years. “Devolution, affordability, public acceptability, climate change and meeting our environmental obligations, new technology, population growth – these questions and many more have to be tackled, and without doubt getting to the right answer on these issues is complex. We have also looked at the sectors – how the networks are performing and how they will cope with the demands placed on them in the future,” he said.

The evidence gathered is now being collated and analysed and academic research is also underway by the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), led by the University of Oxford, and this will form part of the evidence base, along with other economic and environmental analysis.

Armitt said that the evidence gathered so far showed three recurring themes. He said that that there was a “strong sense that we need leaders who can operate on a local level but also grasp the bigger picture; our nation’s strategic needs”. The issue of leadership would be at the centre of the debate, Armitt claimed.

He also said that future technology will have a significant role to play in the way infrastructure is delivered and used. “We need to get on the front foot providing flexible and adaptable infrastructure which can both accommodate and benefit from technology changes. The broad view is that we simply cannot afford not to,” he said.

Last but not least, Armitt identified the interdependent and vulnerable nature of infrastructure systems as being crucial. “The way the sectors interrelate is still largely misunderstood or unappreciated, and there are questions that keep coming up and need answering. For example, how will autonomous transport impact on the energy sector?” he asked.

Armitt said that energy was without doubt the most vital network due to the role it plays in ensuring all the other networks – transport, water, waste and ICT – function effectively and can meet future demand. “With capacity margins reducing is it possible to deliver ambitious plans across other sectors, if we have not yet addressed our energy issues?” Armitt asked.

Armitt said that he was looking forward to exploring the issues raised over the coming months and to the publication of the NNA’s conclusions in October which would be shared with the National Infrastructure Commission, to support its own needs analysis.

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