Second UK infrastructure assessment ‘should focus on climate goals’

Out-Law News | 26 Oct 2021 | 11:56 am | 3 min. read

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has published its recommendations for what the UK government should include in the forthcoming second National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA2).

The policy position statement on NIA2 (10 page / 295KB PDF) follows an industry consultation on the development of the assessment, to help the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) determine the best direction of travel.

ICE said there were four main changes to infrastructure demand drivers since the publication of NIA1 in 2018 that should be considered in NIA2: the climate emergency and net zero; Covid-19; the need to address regional socio-economic inequalities; and the impact of digital infrastructure availability.

The paper draws together responses to the consultation and makes recommendations in three key areas: climate action and sustainability; existing infrastructure assets and networks; and delivering infrastructure.

ICE said NIA2 needed to align with the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) sixth carbon budget and consider the governance required to deliver net-zero infrastructure systems.

It said the NIC should fully consider the carbon impacts of proposed infrastructure interventions to the same extent that fiscal and economic impacts are considered, and explore how infrastructure investment can be used to drive wider efforts towards achieving sustainable development goals.

In order to bring infrastructure up to an acceptable level meeting national goals, NIA2 should set out the state of existing networks. ICE said it should include scenario analysis on a systems basis in order to account for the potential impacts – short, medium and long-term – of Covid-19 on infrastructure networks, and ensure nationwide digital connectivity to allow fair opportunity for all, alongside improving connections for future use.

ICE added that NIA2 should explore the growing role and impact of individually owned assets as part of the infrastructure system.

NIA2 also needed to make recommendations for the evolution of infrastructure decision-making governance, in order to enable local government to commit to clear pathways for infrastructure interventions over the long term.

The assessment should also provide guidance and benchmarks to the government on how long investment programmes should take to complete.

Infrastructure expert Jan Bessellof Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that, in addition to the items in the policy paper, the NIA2 should focus on ‘natural capital’ – natural assets such as water, soil, minerals and air – as infrastructure development can have a significant impact on natural resources.

Bessell said logistics also needed to be incorporated at all levels of infrastructure planning, particularly in the development of ports and airports.

Integrated spatial planning would also be key to infrastructure development in the future, Bessell said, and this also needed to be included in the final NIA2 document.

Pinsent Masons was among the firms to provide input to ICE’s consultation that helped shaped the policy paper.

Pinsent Masons said it was essential for government to revisit population forecasts and examine the shift to hybrid working in the wake of the pandemic in order to draw up NIA2.

The firm said assumptions around transportation had to be tested, and port and airport capacity also needed to be revisited as a result both of the pandemic and of Brexit. The paper also highlights the importance of the upkeep and improvement of existing infrastructure to avoid rebuilding where possible and minimise the impacts of embodied and operational carbon.

Infrastructure expert Anne-Marie Friel, one of the Pinsent Masons contributors, said: “There is a huge opportunity to get more out of our ageing infrastructure through the industrialisation of digital monitoring techniques, which while very effective are currently only used rarely during the operational life of assets, often due to a concern about the benefits of an increase in ongoing maintenance costs. But over the whole life of the assets, this investment will be likely to reap rewards, including defect reduction which the whole supply chain will benefit from.”

Better carbon data would be helpful to enable NIA2 to enable the infrastructure sector to meet carbon goals, said Pinsent Masons: “The provision of better data will assist in the delivery of all areas and provides a platform to better plan, design, deliver, and operate infrastructure. The urgent need to develop and implement universal standards and categories of carbon emissions data is the only way to achieve the systemic changes we need to achieve to reach our net zero goals.”

The Pinsent Masons response also highlighted the need to address construction skills and the ageing construction workforce.

NIA2 is due to be published in the second half of 2023.