Out-Law News | 27 Jun 2019 | 9:37 am | 2 min. read
The case for further investment in technology to improve the way infrastructure is utilised is clear, but financial constraints mean the UK government and business community face difficult decisions about where to spend their money, experts in infrastructure law have said.
Last week, a report prepared for the UK government outlined the business case for taking forward the development of the vision for a 'digital built Britain' (DBB). This entails a "digital enabled transformation of the full lifecycle of the built environment", and is aimed at boosting UK productivity, and economic and social outcomes.
The report recommended that further work be undertaken towards a next generation (Level 3 business information modelling, or BIM) DBB and that, in the short term, funding should be sought to support greater convergence through technologies such as BIM and sensors.
BIM is the use of digital modelling to improve the design, construction and operation of the built environment to enable the client and supply chain to realise a range of benefits such as the predictability of costs and programme management during construction and thermal efficiency projections during post-occupancy. Level 2 BIM, mandated for public sector works in 2016, introduced multi-party working on common information models, but Level 3 BIM will focus on progressing all the elements needed to allow full connection of a common information chain across the life of the asset, accessible by all relevant stakeholders, for efficiency and performance benefits.
An increase of up to 6% in UK GDP could be realised over the next 15 years through the move to a DBB, according to the report. It said government investment is necessary for the initiative to succeed but that the investment is "worthwhile" due to the "economic return",
"There is an opportunity to make changes in government-funded capital spend that have a positive impact on the long-run operating costs of an asset," the report said. "This will improve operations on existing assets to deliver better services outcomes and to optimise services dependent upon government-funded infrastructure to meet demand. These benefits are amplified when modelled across multiple services such as housing and transport, translating to a quantified and improved social value. The return cannot be achieved without government support to prime the market."
The shift to a DBB would provide new opportunities for businesses, the report said.
"The [strategic outline business case] work has identified a gap in the market for new commercial services in the provision of infrastructure optimisation and investment modelling, dependent upon successful adoption of an information standard," it said.
Anne-Marie Friel of Pinsent Masons said Level 3 BIM can play a central role in the move to digitise the UK's built environment.
"The work of Digital Built Britain in implementing the UK government’s Level 2 BIM mandate on new public sector assets has allowed the UK to develop world-leading BIM expertise," Friel said. "The collaborative information sharing that would be enabled by the adoption of Level 3 BIM will transform productivity and risk management in the construction and operation of the built environment for the wider good and will accelerate the digital transformation of the UK’s infrastructure."
"Confirmation of the strategic business plan allows the government to start actively investing in the implementation of its BIM Level 3 plan. This will help the UK’s infrastructure sector to continue its market-leading work in unlocking the potential of data in the built environment and could therefore be an important milestone in our digital transformation journey," she said.
Jonathan Hart of Pinsent Masons said: "To get the full benefits of this step change is going to require investment – both in terms of skills and training and technology – by both public sector and private sector alike, when there are already difficult distractions and financial challenges that have to be grappled with."
Technology such as BIM is envisaged to help improve building safety.
A recently opened consultation on new building safety regulation for England has explored how a 'golden thread' of building information could be "created, maintained and held digitally to ensure that the original design intent and any subsequent changes to the building are captured, preserved and used to support safety improvements".
The consultation aims to take forward recommendations outlined in last year's Hackitt Review, which was set up following the Grenfell Tower fire in London.