The Budget statement yesterday included another attempt to kickstart infrastructure investment, with £3bn a year in additional infrastructure spend from 2015/16. The money for this will come from savings in departmental budgets which the chancellor said will mean £15 billion of extra capital spending over the next decade.
Whilst the additional infrastructure funding is welcome, money won’t be available until 2015 and critics have been calling for the pledges to translate into action through “shovel-ready” projects. There is a real lack of clarity about the impact the additional funding will have as no indication was given of where money will be spent. The important question of how funds will be allocated was also unanswered.
To ensure that the UK’s infrastructure is able to support growth and environmental efficiency, massive investment is required. This large scale building task has the potential to create a series of compelling structures. But to succeed good design processes must be an integral part the planning of infrastructure programmes.
We have just published A Design-led Approach to Infrastructure at the request of the planning inspectorate and we’ll be launching this next month in Parliament. The document comprises a set of ten guidelines for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) for energy, transport, water, waste water and waste as defined in the Planning Act 2008. The guidelines cover important factors such as embedding design thinking at the earliest stages and throughout projects; listening to a range of stakeholders; looking beyond the immediate project or site; using high quality materials; making sustainability integral right from the start, and including opportunities for visitors.
These principles are core to the Cabe team’s Design Review service which looked at Hinkley Point, the nuclear plant which was given the go ahead in the Budget and are exemplified in the proposed Teesside Power Station a biomass-fuelled power station by Heatherwick Studio, pictured above.
Large infrastructure projects are prone to a prolonged pre-construction process during the design, consultation and planning stages, and strong local opposition often delays projects. Holistic design thinking at the outset can help mitigate planning risks. A design-led approach that takes geographical context into account helps to ensure these projects respond well to the setting, are inspiring architecturally and allay concerns of the local community.