Since the early stages of the pandemic, the infrastructure sector was placed in the limelight as the industry that would help the UK economy weather the uncertainties ahead. Certainly big promises were made of investments and a pipeline of projects and to a degree, some of these have been fulfilled. For example:
- HS2 was given the go ahead – although how many of the planned high speed rail routes will find their way to completion remains to be seen. Despite being a showcase of innovation and collaboration, protests against the development of HS2 continue, frustrating progress.
- The UK Infrastructure Bank was founded and has already made its first investments. It is hoped that the UKIB will be the key link to the success of infrastructure development while aligning with decarbonization plans as many of the investment requirements are based on lowering carbon emissions and implementing greener construction practices.
- Dogger Bank A, B and C wind farm development is forging ahead and once all three phases are completed is set to be the largest offshore wind farm worldwide with the capacity to power 6 million UK homes.
Government’s latest claims are that infrastructure development is the key to levelling up and successful urban regeneration. Is this a dream too big given the current skills crisis, materials shortages and inflationary pressures already facing the infrastructure sector?
It is possible. One only has to look at many examples around the world where public private partnerships have been successful at delivering infrastructure that creates social value, jobs, revenue streams and regeneration.
The regeneration of Bilbao, Spain is one such example. It’s an ongoing project that has already spanned more than three decades. The project included the Guggenheim museum redevelopment and expansion on the local metro and a disused airport. These elements were considered particularly risky yet the local Basque municipalities raise EUR144 million for the project. Today the Guggenheim museum contributes EUR158 million to Bilbao’s GDP.
A key element of success has been good project oversight and management. Highlighting the importance of having the right senior people in decision making positions, but also having the structures in place to disseminate knowledge and skills through all levels of a project.
Social value comes in many forms and infrastructure should not just be seen as roads or utility services. Infrastructure has the potential to create better living conditions for communities and improve their well-being, which can start to be the catalyst for levelling up.