Infrastructure needs holistic, joined up approach

Thursday 14 December 2017

The UK must get better at ‘banging heads together’ across government and beyond to present a unified case for new infrastructure, using innovative funding models. And it must treat water, flood protection, energy and broadband – the country’s ‘invisible infrastructure’ - as of equal importance as transport if London and other cities are to progress on the world stage.

Those were some of the key points to emerge at a half-day conference on new infrastructure at NLA yesterday, kicked off by National Infrastructure Commissioner Bridget Rosewell.

London, said Rosewell, should consider new rules to make new developments pay as much attention to wiring for broadband as they do for power. ‘At the moment before you do a development you have to have shown that you have the water, and the drains and the electricity but you don’t have to show that you have broadband capacity to the premises’, she said. ‘That seems to me to be inadequate.’

Happily, she said, London has shown the way in bringing transport and planning together in terms of economics since Rosewell first started as chief economist at the GLA in 2002, which paid off in things like the Elizabeth Line. But today’s climate needs more ‘engagement’ rather than ‘consultation’, especially in moves to more regional and local requirements; more of a ‘bottom-up’ process to help on answers to infrastructure questions facing London. ‘It’s really important that London knows and sets its own infrastructure priorities’, said Rosewell.

For AECOM’s chief executive, integrated management services, Patrick Flaherty, the main challenge lies in government’s ‘ongoing reluctance’ to push out ‘user pays’ for infrastructure, which he believes will be the direction of travel for transport initiatives. But he added that a ‘comprehensive review of Green Belt’ was needed in order to free up areas for housing, particularly around transport hubs. Another direction of travel, certainly as far as the London Plan is concerned, is towards Healthy Streets, said Ben Plowden, director of strategy, planning and surface transport at TfL. ‘The healthy streets notion runs like a thread through the mayor’s transport strategy and through the London Plan’, he said. Both documents show that we are moving towards transport underpinning effective planning. ‘We are absolutely on the way to that and can’t do anything else if we want London to remain truly competitive in the 21st century.’

Crossrail 2 is another key component in that future, said its head of business case and funding Tom Burton-Page, in terms of unblocking key capacity constraints in housing – a 1 million unit housing shortfall by 2026 – and transport. ‘We are preparing the ground for an altogether better sequel to the Elizabeth Line’, he said. Research shows a premium of around 10% on house prices around stations – the challenge is how to capture this ‘windfall gain’. Crossrail 2 has looked at potential land value uplift, concluding that the line will provide some £60bilion worth. ‘But here’s the thing’, said Burton Page ‘Current measures are hopeless at recovering that’, said Burton-Page.

For Matt Carpen, project director for Barking Riverside – the development Southwark head of regeneration for Old Kent Road Colin Wilson later dubbed ‘Ice station zebra’ and whose masterplan was consented last week – transport was a priority, ‘My performance review said: “get a railway to this site”’, said Carpen. This is not a transport scheme, however; it’s a housing and regeneration scheme that delivers homes in a ‘21st century eco district’ that represented a ‘managed risk’.

The conference also heard from London & South East Strategy and planning director at Network Rail Rupert Walker, who said his organisation has £10bn of investment nearing completion which will ‘transform’ travel into London, including London Bridge station, the Grimshaw-designed project opening early next year. Grimshaw partner Mark Middleton said the scheme had been a complex one, adding three more tracks to provide 300% more capacity. ‘We liken it to open heart surgery while the patient is doing a marathon’, he said. But we must work harder on getting agencies to bang heads together, Middleton added. Projects like Euston – where a masterplanner is set to be appointed – are a case in point when it comes to Over Site Development versus transport. ‘You get a split between three government departments, none of them speaking to each other’, said Middleton. ‘There’s far too much bureaucracy and people don’t see the bigger picture.’

By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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