National Needs Assessment calls for integrated approach to infrastructure

Given the industry's desire to meet the UK's infrastructure needs of tomorrow, Julian Francis examines what has been revealed in the newly launched National Needs Assessment and what the next steps are for the industry.

The great and good of the industry came together this week at the ICE for the launch of National Needs Assessment (NNA). Conducted over the last 15 months, the assessment engaged with a wide range of parties including industry, investors, environmental, legal and professional bodies, and politicians and opinion formers.

The report, the first of its kind, outlines the changing demands on infrastructure services. Population growth will continue to be the biggest driver of infrastructure policy as it puts pressure on services, particularly in areas already under stress, such as the south east. Combined with resilience challenges from climate change we will face a very different world by 2050.

The NNA vision imagines a nation with balanced economic growth, thriving communities and a low carbon future. It sets out how the UK can become a world leader in a new technology-driven revolution in infrastructure services. To meet this goal, the UK needs a long-term strategic approach to infrastructure provision, which is able to cope with future uncertainties.

The priority is for the government to outline and commit to stable policies for infrastructure which transcend political cycles, particularly for energy where we have seen investors deterred from backing carbon capture and photovoltaic panels due to changing UK policy.

Britain's future infrastructure needs are intertwined – transport needs energy; Housing needs transport, energy and water; energy needs transport and water; all infrastructure needs digital connectivity, which in turn needs energy. A piecemeal approach simply won’t work. There has to be an integrated cross-sectoral approach, with all possible drivers of demand considered and a policy framework in place which enables this integration.

The assessment makes a series of recommendations to meet these needs and to develop infrastructure that will position the UK as an innovative global trading nation. Energy - particularly electricity - transport and digital will provide the greatest opportunities to deal positively with these changes. Housing and infrastructure must be planned together to create thriving communities and spread economic growth.

The assessment is a blueprint for the National Infrastructure Commission’s own National Infrastructure Assessment, due to be published in 2018. As such, it recommends areas for immediate attention through the NIC’s shorter term reports.

During the NNA study, energy supply was shown to be underpinning the future of all infrastructure development and should be a priority for the government. The NNA recommends that the government commits to a plan for low carbon electricity generation capacity which ensures security of supply through to at least 2035. 

Furthermore, in order to create a stable environment for these long term investments, government should commit to a diverse mix of electricity generation based on nuclear, renewables, gas and interconnectors and set out an expectation on generation. For example, as set out by the Committee on Climate Change - 20-25% nuclear, 35-40% renewables, 25-30% combined cycle gas turbine and 10% interconnection.

With the projected UK population set to reach 75 million by 2050, there will be an increasing and changing demand for infrastructure services. Users of infrastructure are increasingly conscious and vocal about the everyday challenges presented by these demands. The government and the industry must deliver services that enable productivity, health and wellbeing and balanced economic growth. 

The NNA provides us with a place to start, because if we do not take the right steps now we will lose out on the opportunities that the future holds. 

Julian Francis is director of policy and external affairs at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.


The Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction also had its report published setting out its recommendations for the adoption of smart infrastructure technologies in support of this strategy. The report, which was commissioned by the DfT on behalf of the Strategic Advisor, and led by Lord Professor Robert Mair is abailable here: