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How do we make infrastructure work for our communities?

One of the biggest challenges for infrastructure projects is balancing local impacts with strategic need. Government agencies, local and regional authorities, private enterprise, investors and the public all have a role as key players working toward the same common goal; to deliver crucial infrastructure for the UK to boost growth and productivity and also helps deliver much needed housing. A key element of this is how government agencies work with local communities to deliver timely infrastructure, because they are sometimes far apart on their views of what’s important.


It is sometimes felt that people and communities have infrastructure delivered against them rather than with or for them and there is a misunderstanding of the impacts, positive or negative, as can be seen with opposition to HS2 and Heathrow. Much of this may be because of the emphasis placed on economic infrastructure, without also tackling social infrastructure and little narrative on how it benefits communities and people.

A key conclusion drawn from industry leaders’ roundtables, as part of our Cities and Infrastructure Paper, hosted by WSP in London, Birmingham and Manchester was that the industry must undertake more public advocacy. While in our poll, 80% of industry executives thought that the public does not understand the role of infrastructure, such as enabling growth or providing electricity for our homes. We must therefore better communicate the economic, social and environmental benefits associated with infrastructure projects to help people understand why it affects them.

We are living in rapidly changing times with technological advances, population growth and an ageing population. These challenges cause stresses across the UK. We can address this by ensuring we have the right infrastructure in place at the right time and at the right cost to society. To achieve this will require both industry and the government to provide an inclusive approach to delivery. Once you have public support you can speed up the delivery of a project, reduce risk and attract investment.

We will do this by:

•    Working with government to provide greater advocacy to the general public concerning the benefits of infrastructure so communities can be an effective agent for change. This would be achieved through effective strategic infrastructure planning and a meaningful community engagement at the earliest stage. We need to give communities the right information, highlighting the economic, social and environmental benefits resulting from infrastructure. This type of inclusive stakeholder and community engagement was carried out on the Ipswich Upper-Orwell-Crossings Community Engagement Development Consent Order (DCO) .

•    Improving how we discuss nationally significant projects in terms of how they link up with smaller projects. In particular, we need to build trust through clear communication on why we need the infrastructure, as well as more joined-up governance and delivery models across our growth regions, corridors and cities. We did this for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway Roads Investment Strategy (RIS) 2 work where we focused on how it impacts on the first / last mile of the journey to give a better appreciation of the infrastructure’s benefits and its impact locally.

•    Building on this we need better ways of measuring social value of infrastructure as a key part of planning and making investment decisions that are clear to communities. We are creating better metrics and data to include within the whole project lifecycle. WSP has completed a pioneering Major Road Network study on the A45 which has included consideration of local jobs and support to local business and how we can help develop healthier, safer and more resilient communities through integrating measures with technology and reducing construction works impacts. We have also environmental protection and improvement, such as planning for how London will change over Crossrail2’s 100 year plus lifespan, including 40°C peak summer temperatures, 50% heavier rainfall, and higher river levels.  

By Adrian Hames, WSP Head of Infrastructure Planning