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We must stop reinventing the wheel to deliver on infrastructure

The UK needs better economic infrastructure. Many of our key rail and road routes are approaching capacity, while experts predict that our electricity sector will need around £110bn of capital investment over the next decade.

The South-east faces a significant housing shortage: research from Savills shows 50,000 new homes are needed in the capital each year — almost double the 28,500 being built.

And these challenges will be exacerbated by the UK’s rising population, which is set to reach 70m by 2027.

It was in response to this challenge that the government made two important announcements on 5 December.

NIP confidence boost

First, the National Infrastructure Plan fleshed out the government’s strategy, providing a greater rationale for and more transparency over the Treasury’s pipeline of 40 top projects.

There has been moderate progress on the pipeline since it was launched two years ago, and these measures should increase the confidence of business and institutional investors to invest over the long term.

The option to expedite these nationally important schemes through the planning system is also welcome, as where the pool of investment in infrastructure is limited, all energies must be concentrated on delivering national priority projects like new nuclear, HS2, and increased airport capacity.

Housing not all about funds

Second, the chancellor’s autumn statement included some steps to boost housebuilding, by offering £1bn of loans to help unlock developments and forcing councils to sell off expensive social housing to fund more extensive replacement projects.

“A significant challenge is to ensure that partners behind these schemes work more closely together to address the obstacles that are blocking progress”

While it’s encouraging that the government is looking at ways to increase the supply of new housing, funding is only part of the complex puzzle.

Many big projects have stalled, and a significant challenge is to ensure that partners behind these schemes work more closely together to address the obstacles that are blocking progress.

An example of this is at Greenwich Square in south London where Mace is equity investor and developer in a joint venture delivering 645 mixed tenure homes, leisure, retail and health facilities.

This was a stalled site that had been disused for several years and needed a creative partnership between the public and private sectors to unlock the potential and get development moving. The first phase is now well advanced on site.

The high-value social housing proposal is also an interesting idea that may lead to a moderate expansion in London’s social housing stock.

If it is to work, councils need to be able to accurately assess the realisable value of their social housing stock, either by making sure they have the right skills in their own teams or working with partners.

Skills at the heart of requirements

And if Britain is going to embark on a series of major projects to meet our infrastructure requirements, we need a workforce with advanced skills to build them.

It was encouraging that the autumn statement also included an announcement on a new funding arrangement for apprenticeships, but if we are to develop the highly skilled recruits that the industry requires, employer-led programmes that include curriculum development are the way forward.

“We need to stick with proven procurement and delivery models rather than keep reinventing the wheel”

At Hinkley Point, Mace is supporting EDF Energy to deliver a range of socio-economic projects through collaborative arrangements with a wide variety of stakeholders encompassing strategic planning, development and delivery.

This work has included the development of a dedicated Construction Skills and Innovation Centre in Somerset, driven by evidence-based data so that local providers and national bodies will provide people with the right skillsets for this highly technical project.

Britain needs investment in infrastructure more than ever.

London 2012 showed we can do it. But while the government’s announcements show it understands the scale of the problem, we need to stick with proven procurement and delivery models rather than keep reinventing the wheel. We have the capability, we now need a single-minded focus on delivery.

Jason Millett is chief operating officer for major programmes and infrastructure at Mace

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