UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment is backed by ITRC analysis

National Infrastructure Commission

The first long-term view of the UK’s infrastructure needs was published by the National Infrastructure Commission in July 2018. The National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) calls for a more joined-up view of infrastructure, with significant investments needed to tackle road congestion, deal with water shortages and provide secure low-carbon energy supplies.

The NIA proposes ways of promoting greater innovation, for example through the roll-out of 5G mobile services and the uptake of autonomous vehicles.

The NIA was underpinned by advanced modelling and analysis of scenarios of the future. This adopted methodology proposed by the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium, a consortium of seven of the UK’s leading universities, led from the University of Oxford. The ITRC has developed the UK’s first National Infrastructure Model (NISMOD) which was used by the National Infrastructure Commission to conduct the National Infrastructure Assessment.

NISMOD was used to model the changing demand for infrastructure services, including transport, energy and water. The ITRC demographics’ group in Leeds developed a baseline projection for population and employment in UK cities and undertook sensitivity testing of projections to consider outcomes under different assumptions about future growth patterns. They developed alternative scenarios for population and employment growth in cities reflecting transport infrastructure constraints and housing constraints. The headline conclusion reported in the National Infrastructure Assessment is that transport networks are close to capacity in many UK cities.

The NIC used NISMOD to explore options for provision of secure water supplies in the face of growing water use and uncertain climatic changes. The NISMOD analysis demonstrated that secure water supplies can be provided in future, but doing so requires action to reduce leakage and manage water demand, as well as investment in strategic water supply infrastructure, including pipes and canals to transfer water around the country.

Prof Jim Hall, who leads the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium, said: “We are very pleased to see the models that we have developed being taken up by the National Infrastructure Commission to conduct the National Infrastructure Assessment. NISMOD has taken us several years to develop, but it now provides a unique capability to simulate Britain’s national infrastructure in the future and to inform the difficult choices that the National Infrastructure Commission is having to make.”

This first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment for the United Kingdom makes recommendations for how the identified infrastructure needs and priorities of the country should be addressed. Government will be required to formally respond to the recommendations made.

The Assessment includes a range of recommendations, including on:

  • Low carbon energy – making a switch to low-carbon and renewable sources for both the country’s power and heating, combined with a move towards electric vehicles, would mean the customer of 2050 would pay the same in real terms for their energy as today
  • Digital technology – that the Government devise a National Broadband Plan by Spring 2019, to deliver full fibre connections across the whole of the country, including those in rural areas – this should ensure that the technology is available to 15 million homes and businesses by 2025, 25 million by 2030, and all homes and businesses by 2033
  • The future for the nation’s roads – that the Government work with councils and private companies to deliver a national network of charging points for electric vehicles and ensures that the impacts of connected and autonomous vehicles are taken into account when planning for the next rail control period and road investment strategy;
  • Encouraging growth of cities – that Metro Mayors and city leaders develop and implement long-term strategies for transport, employment and housing in their areas, to support economic growth, with new powers and devolved infrastructure budgets. The National Infrastructure Assessment’s spending plans include funding for projects including Crossrail 2 in London, and Northern Powerhouse Rail linking the major Northern cities, and recommends a boost in funding for major cities totalling £43 billion to 2040, with cities given stable five-year budgets, starting in 2021;
  • Tackling floods – that the Government should put in place a long-term strategy to deliver a nationwide standard of flood resilience by 2050 with funding for flood risk management increasing significantly over the coming decades
  • Cutting waste – that new national rules for what can and cannot be recycled be introduced, with restrictions on the hardest-to-recycle plastics, aimed at increasing rates and reducing the amount of plastics going to incinerators. This would also mean that all food waste is separated making it available to create biogas, so it can be used to heat people’s homes and potentially as a transport fuel