Public wants more information on infrastructure projects, new survey says

More than half of people in Britain regard housing as the most important investment priority for the country but more is needed to be done by the industry and government to ensure people understand infrastructure projects, according to a new survey.

The independent survey of attitudes to infrastructure in the United Kingdom finds that more needs to be done to tackle the issue of how many people feel that infrastructure projects “happen to them”, rather than “for them”. 

The report, published by Copper Consultancy in partnership with TLF Research, revealed that housing was a priority for the majority of people and was closely followed by renewable energy and major roads. The results were gathered after hearing initially from four focus groups around the UK and the findings take into account the responses of 2,007 people. 

One of the most revealing findings from the survey is the generational gap when it comes to optimism in infrastructure. Almost 60% of those aged 65 and over thought UK railways were ageing/not good enough, while just a little more than 20% of people aged 18-24 believed railways to be very good/among the best in the world. It was a similar picture for housing with nearly 60% of those aged 65 and over seeing UK housing as not good enough and just short of 20% aged 18-24 thought it was very good. 

Linda Taylor, managing director of Copper Consultancy, believed the gap could be down to those aged younger having an “element of hope” and in general seemed to posses more of an “positive belief about the future”. The report adds how younger people have an aspiration which makes them more optimistic and they want more infrastructure as they pursue jobs and homes in a more modern world.

Another important finding from the survey was two-thirds of respondents saying there was not enough information available for them to have an opinion on the future of infrastructure and housing, while nearly 60% of people stating they would be more interested in infrastructure and development projects if the benefits were clearly explained. Taylor said there needed to be a “bottom-up approach” to address this issue and it was important that both the government and the industry played a part in getting messages out to the public.

Commenting on the survey, Taylor added: “What’s clear from the research is that the public wants the opportunity to support infrastructure investment, but unless they understand the benefits, people do not feel equipped to get involved. The public wants support in linking projects to day to day life and experiences. We’re left with an investment-benefit disconnect. The government and industry have an opportunity to tell a coherent story about the real life benefits that investment in infrastructure and housing delivers. Our research shows that when the benefits are made clear, the public is supportive. If we achieve this, public support for infrastructure could lead to fewer delays to projects and the benefits of infrastructure will be realised sooner.”

After collecting the results, those behind the report have highlighted six recommendations:

  1. Connect investment to benefits – link investment to day-to-day meaningful benefits
  2. Explain priorities – articulate how each sector contributes to the overall picture of infrastructure investment
  3. Combine housing and infrastructure – the public sees infrastructure and housing as interlinked; separating the two serves to undermine project benefits
  4. Develop a positive narrative – the public wants to understand the infrastructure industry’s success
  5. Explain how infrastructure and housing will form the spine of post-Brexit UK – the public is united around the need for investment once we leave the European Union and sees infrastructure and housing as an essential part of the UK’s future
  6. Connect – we cannot rely on a transactional relationship with the public – industry needs to build long term, meaningful relationships with society to maximise opportunities to shape projects.

Commenting on the report, the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Professor Lord Robert Mair, said: “The report makes a major contribution to our understanding of the public’s aspirations for UK infrastructure. At a time when infrastructure is key to the future of the UK’s economy, the report’s findings are not only timely but also encouraging. The report shows the public can link positive change to infrastructure investment if they understand the benefits as outcomes and impacts to them. Engaging and educating the public - who are ultimately the customers and end users in infrastructure - is therefore crucial. To achieve this, we need to change the language around the subject and make the profession of civil engineering more accessible. It is up to us to take the findings of this report forward and to proactively tell our stories to the public.”

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