UK's national infrastructure 'at mercy' of extreme weather, ICE warns
The growing frequency of extreme weather events in the UK is putting the nation's infrastructure networks at risk, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has warned.
The structures underpinning the UK's transport, energy, flood, waste and water networks have been assessed by ICE in its latest infrastructure 'state of the nation' report. Local transport infrastructure is considered at most risk, with flood management, energy and waste groundworks all requiring attention.
The study points out a steady decline in maintenance of both flood defences and local roads following local authority budget cuts, and a narrowing gap between energy supply and demand for energy. It also warns these factors could result in a 'domino effect' where the failure of one system can affect the operation of another.
Ultimately, the demands placed on weakening infrastructure will make it more difficult to operate all networks, at all times, in all conditions. ICE says that a shift in the public's expectations on infrastructure availability will be needed.
Speaking about the domino effect, ICE vice president Keith Clarke CBE said evidence of this was seen recently when the UK's flood defences were overwhelmed - this resulted the in disruption of transport, energy, water and waste networks.
"Clearly there are some difficult decisions ahead regarding just how resilient the UK should be, and also what networks can and should operate 24/7 in what conditions," he said. "Management of the public's expectations on availability during adverse conditions will need to form a key part of this process."
Clarke said the Government must bear responsibility for making the right investment choices in public sector infrastructure. "It must also build on its efforts to provide the right regulatory incentives to improve resilience within private sector infrastructure," he added.
The report sets out a series of recommendations, one of which is to expand the decision-making criteria used as a basis for priority infrastructure projects in order to reflect major future challenges.
"Criteria should include resilience, availability, the pathway to a low-carbon economy and better acknowledge interdependencieacross networks - or how one sector impacts on another," it states.
It also calls on the Governemnt to ensure the that right regulatory environment exists to incentivise private infrastructure operators to build resilience into infrastructure. "Provide more clarity, certainty and transparency for potential investors through the regularly published National Infrastructure Plan project pipeline - by including more detail on investable projects, their status, planning approval, ownership structure and revenue streams."
The study also delves into greater detail on flood management and suggests that a holistic approach to flood management should be taken, jointly led by the Environment Agency and local flood authorities. Measures here should stretch beyond conventional flood defences - one step could be to increase the physical resilience of communities by making property and infrastructure more resistant.
In addition, ICE would like to the see Government provide longer term certainty on flood resilience by committing to a long term capital and maintenance programme for flood management, which protects funding beyond the current five-year cycle.