Infrastructure flooding EllisFox Blog

Will UK infrastructure sink or swim?

The past week has seen several flood warnings issued in various parts of England as autumn rains are producing much heavier downpours than usual. Some areas experienced a week’s worth of rain in just a few hours and there has already been extensive damage to both homes and infrastructure. To make matters worse, there is reportedly more rain on its way.

What makes this different from any other year is the unmistakable weather extremes. The UK experienced a sweltering hot summer and predictions are that it’s going to be a freezing cold winter. All of this places the UK’s aging infrastructure under extreme strain. Roads and bridges are being washed away or damaged. Railways and telecommunications are being disrupted. And in some places sewer lines are being damaged posing serious health risks. How well equipped is the infrastructure sector to handle this?

Too little too late?

Due to austerity measures many local councils have been battling to keep up with routine maintenance, and there has been little investment in upgrading infrastructure. Plus there is a new challenge for engineers – they now have to plan and design for much higher volumes of water drainage, and greater forces pushing against structures due to these extreme weather events. It’s no longer a case of factoring in a little redundancy, there are now extreme factors to consider. And what makes this even more challenging is that no-one is clear on just how extreme these weather factors will be, historical data is proving to be of little value.

Even if the funding is made available, are there sufficient contractors to complete the work, and will they be able to do so before the next storm hits resulting in more damage? Historically, major infrastructure projects have been tied up in endless reams of red tape, and plagued by project delays and cost escalations. If this continues, how will the UK maintain an effective infrastructure?

It’s no small challenge for contractors operating in the infrastructure sector. However, it is an opportunity for the industry to make a real impact and showcase their expertise. We can only hope that the decision makers holding the purse strings will recognise the serious and urgent need to support and enable infrastructure improvements. What are your suggestions to make this happen? Is there a way that infrastructure development can be fast-tracked so that communities will not be left stranded?