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Civils firms boosted by retrofit plan

A government report calling for urgent action to adapt infrastructure to cope with a changing climate could create a new stream of work for civils firms, according to industry leaders.

As first revealed on cnplus.co.uk, Climate Resilient Infrastructure: Preparing for a Changing Climate was published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this week, calling for new and existing infrastructure to be adapted to cope with a more extreme climate.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association head of external affairs Alasdair Reisner said the report opened up “a third role for the industry” to sit alongside maintenance and improvement.

He said: “In the future we will see civil engineering contractors being asked to retrofit resilience into existing infrastructure, removing the risk that vital ser­vices and capacity could be lost as a result of unanticipated weather events.”

Launching the report, environment secretary Caroline Spelman said climate adaptation would present significant opportunities for contractors in retrofitting old infrastructure as well as developing technologies for use on projects of the future at home and abroad.

“[Contractors] are well placed to focus on the skills and capabilities necessary to invest in, design, build and maintain infrastructure for a new global climate,” she said. “In doing so, they can capitalise on global adaptation opportunities to gain a competitive edge in domestic and world markets.”

The report advocates a range of measures that will be needed to cope with an unpredictable climate:

  • Higher standards for rails to prevent them buckling in extreme heat and strengthening of embankments to cope with instability caused by wetter weathers and drier summers.
  • Building bridges higher to accommodate larger tidal ranges because of rising sea levels, and reinforcing foundations to cope with higher magnitude flood events, it says.
  • Making road surfaces from materials than can better cope with heat. The same goes for underground cabling, which
  • will also need to be adapted for increased flooding and subsidence.
  • Strengthening pylons and reservoirs. Energy facilities, including carbon capture and storage plants, will have to be adapted to cope with flooding and temperature fluctuations.

Mr Reisner called on the government to publish a road map outlining where retrofitting of infrastructure would occur: “We hope the report will act as a first step on this road, allowing UK companies to develop capabilities that will not only help deliver these improvements in the UK, but can also be marketed to meet similar needs around the world.”

The report launch took place at Balfour Beatty’s redevelopment of London’s Blackfriars station, a project incorporating cutting- edge adaptation technology.

Group head of sustainability Jonathon Garrett said Balfour Beatty had identified the market as a major growth area, and would this week begin the development of a group-wide framework for adaptation.

Mr Garrett said: “We think it is an area that is poorly implemented and is something that will grow in importance, so it is an opportunity for us if we can get in early.”

Balfour Beatty-owned consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff helped to create an adaptation strategy for the Highways Agency last year, and Mr Garrett said this would be used to help develop the group’s offering.

CITB-ConstructionSkills chief executive Mark Farrar said it was essential firms acted quickly to avoid missing out, and called on
He said: “If the government follows through on the major infrastructure plans highlighted in this report, then we are seeing clear routes for businesses to overcome the effects of the downturn.

“However, thousands of newly skilled people will be needed to utilise the innovative construction technologies essential in building the infrastructure able to cope with climate change.”

The report comes ahead of an ‘adaptation programme’ that will be laid before Parliament by the end of 2012, of which infrastructure will be a key theme. It was developed in collaboration with Infrastructure UK, and will feed into the updated National Infra-structure Plan, due in the autumn.

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