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The future of UK's infrastructure is bleak warns ICE

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The Institution of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) latest State of the Nation report makes for ‘grim reading’ and warns ‘tough choices’ will have to be made over prioritising future infrastructure projects

Unless significant resources are allocated, the UK faces a future of increased flood damage, poor local roads networks and an overburdened energy supply, against a backdrop of climate change and population growth writes Construction News.

Released every four years, the ICE report rates six UK infrastructure sectors from A (fit for the future) to E (unfit for purpose) and is regarded as the most reliable benchmark of UK infrastructure (see box below).

The ICE called on government to take on board the National Infrastructure Plan’s prioritisation criteria for major infrastructure projects and warned that it should manage the public’s expectations regarding the ‘levels of resilience in the UK’s infrastructure networks’.

It also urged the adoption of an integrated national transport strategy and backed John’ Armitt’s proposed infrastructure commission.

KPMG UK head of infrastructure, building and construction Richard Threlfall said the report was ‘grim reading’ and “forced us all to confront the reality of the infrastructure deficit in our energy, flood defence and local transport systems”.

‘The report also bravely provokes the idea that in future perhaps the UK cannot expect 100 per cent infrastructure availability,’ he said.

‘Are we a nation that will accept electricity rationing, or regular closure of rail and road networks in the event of flooding?

‘It is a challenge to all our political parties either to grasp the nettle now and invest for a 21st century society, or explain to voters why the standard of living we enjoy today may not be as good for our children.’

EC Harris partner Simon Rawlinson said: ‘The government’s allocation of £340m of additional road repair funding will provide some short-term relief and local workload opportunity, but barely scratches the surface of the £12bn catch-up cost associated with road maintenance. 

‘Similarly, additional funding of £130m for flood management will only go so far to prevent flood risk increasing as a result of climate change.’

While the water and strategic transport sectors fared better, maintaining their 2010 B grade, the ICE said the government had “difficult political decisions to make regarding infrastructure provision and operation”.

But Keith Clarke, chair of the State of the Nation steering group, vice-president of the ICE and former Atkins chief executive, said UK infrastructure was a “good market” and that BIM-friendly firms with proven track records could take positives from the report.

“The government is looking at a more efficient enabling infrastructure,’ he said. ‘The introduction of BIM is an example of forcing those efficiencies.

‘That must be good news for the sophisticated big contractors or the sophisticated small contractors in the supply chain.

‘It means quality should ‘up and win’ as opposed to a volume-led, traditional [model]; it starts to distinguish people and that has to be good news for the industry.”

What the scorecard means

GradeDescriptionInfrastructure is…
AFit for the futureWell maintained/good condition
BAdequate for nowAcceptable condition
CRequires attentionInfrequently maintained
DAt riskBelow standard
EUnfit for purposeUnacceptable condition

2014 sector grades (2010 grade)

Energy C- (D)
Strategic transport B (B)
Local transport D- (D)
Flood management C- (C)
Water B (B)
Waste C+ (C)

What the report says:

Energy ‘Over the next decade, around a fifth of the UK’s generating capacity (fossil and nuclear) is expected to be retired.’

Strategic transport ‘Without action, the costs of congestion could more than double between 2005 and 2025 to £3.6bn.’

Local transport ‘One third of local roads in urgent need of attention.”

Flood management ‘Between 2015 and 2021 government will spend £1.4bn less than the Environment Agency’s estimated need.’

Water ‘Continues to perform well…issues of water availability, particularly in the South-east and London are the main challenge.’

Waste ‘Lacks direction and investment in infrastructure has suffered.’

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