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Exclusive: Government to unveil infrastructure retrofitting plan

The government is to call for rapid action to adapt the country’s infrastructure to cope with a radically changing climate in a report due to be published next week.

A draft version of the report seen by Construction News identifies significant opportunities for contractors in retrofitting old infrastructure, as well as developing technologies for use on the projects of the future.

Climate Resilient Infrastructure: Preparing for a Changing Climate will be unveiled by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman at an event at Balfour Beatty’s Blackfriars bridge redevelopment project on Monday.

Ms Spelman is expected to say that adapting infrastructure to cope with the impacts of climate change will present opportunities for leading contractors, operators, consultancies and investors.

The report advocates higher standards for rail to prevent buckling in extreme heat and strengthening embankments to cope with instability caused by wetter weathers and dryer summers.

Bridges should be built higher to accommodate larger tidal ranges due to rising sea levels and foundations should be reinforced to cope with higher magnitude flood events, it says.

Road surfaces should be made from materials than can better cope with heat, as should underground cabling, which will also need to be adapted for increased flooding and subsidence.

Pylons and reservoirs will need to be strengthened, while energy facilities including carbon capture and storage plants will have to be adapted to cope with flooding and temperature fluctuations.

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 provide significant feed in to the updated National Infrastructure Plan, due out this autumn.

The government wants swift action to tackle the growing threat of an extreme and unpredictable climate after recent events highlighted some infrastructure’s fragility.

The heavy snow fall recorded last December, the Cumbrian floods of November 2009 and a French heatwave in 2003 which forced EDF to close several nuclear reactors have all underlined the need for new techniques and technology, the draft report says.

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggests that for every pound spent on adaptation, four times as much could be saved by limiting damage.

Among the challenges identified by the report are the lengthy life expectancies of much of the country’s vital infrastructure and the unpredictability of future climactic conditions in 50-100 years time.

It urges early action on developing the skills needed to deal with climate change, as well as increased capacity and new technology.

The report will set out a mission statement for the government, calling for an infrastructure network that is resilient to today’s natural hazards and prepared for the future changing climate.

But it says the private sector should take the lead on the challenge, arguing government’s role is to support innovation and offer good examples such as High Speed Two.

And it urges investors, owners, operators, engineers and contractors to ensure adaptation is adequately planned for and implemented.

Among the actions it will suggest are the need to adjust maintenance regimes on existing infrastructure; giving greater consideration to climate change in planning and design; investors including climate change impacts as part of due diligence; and regulators treating adaptation consistently.

While the report makes no mention of extra funding for adaptation, it will cite research that suggests the cost of adequate measures could be as low as one to two per cent of the overall bill.


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