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Learning from the lessons of the past

Infrastructure is vital to the global competitiveness of any nation and forms a key component of sustainable economic growth.

Structures such as bridges, tunnels, ports and airports play a huge role in ensuring that British society functions well, connecting people, businesses and locations.

Yet how aware are the general public on the significant role infrastructure plays in their everyday lives?

The term ‘infrastructure’ itself is perhaps quite an intangible one; our recent research shows – that over a third (36 per cent) of the people we spoke to could not explain what the word means, and a further 70 per cent  were unable to name any ‘infrastructure projects’ in the towns or cities that they live in. However, around half of those questioned recognised the importance of infrastructure to society.

Frustratingly, announcements regarding investment in infrastructure can be met with resistance, particularly when it comes to compulsory purchase orders being issued to the public for vital land, or the disruption that major works cause. 

Recent examples include the outcry over plans for High Speed 2. However, issues of this nature go back as far as Brunel, who himself was met with criticism from landowners, track owners and even a parliamentary committee in his quest to build the Great Western Railway.

“The term ‘infrastructure’ itself is perhaps quite an intangible one”

Today, we celebrate Brunel and his iconic construction projects – and rightly so. His achievements are incredible and demonstrate that when assessing the impact of new infrastructure, it is important to look at the future benefits, weighed up with the impacts on individuals and the environment in order to ensure the end results are sustainable and advantageous to society.

One way we can help to do this, is by changing perceptions of infrastructure among the general public in order to help them access a more balanced view of it. 

In order to improve perceptions of infrastructure, RICS recently launched a nationwide photography competition.

The competition invites members of the public to submit a photograph of a man-made physical structure which benefits society in some way. We have received a number of entries which showcase a wide range of structures and projects, from bridges to reservoirs, and it is great to see the imaginative way that people observe infrastructure.

We hope that this is a trend which can be improved upon long into the future.

Amanda Clack is senior vice president at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

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