The challenges of achieving sustainable infrastructure development can be overcome, if a more incentivised and value adding approach was established, says Jay Rao, who examines how this could lead to better practice, and an attractive vehicle for investment.
Development in the UK is fast paced and needed to meet urgent needs, given rising populations, increasing demand for housing and consequent support infrastructure. Having an infrastructure support system that is developed sustainably is an ambition in projects, yet it is still a challenge to be delivered in the industry. As part of Progress Network London, a group made up of young professionals in the industry, we tried to understand how these challenges can be overcome.
Delivering sustainable infrastructure efficiently has been at the core of many problems for designers. When dealing with sustainability standards or assessments, such as the Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM Communities, they are faced with onerous requirements that can lead to excessive costs in both design and construction.
These standards may not always apply to the particular development at hand, depending on the conditions stipulated. However, is this a necessary evil? Our group believes this is a current and common challenge. The option for sustainability is as said, only an option at this stage. Within the standard design one would not seek to over-design, but would seek to minimise costs and time for delivery to the client. There are plenty of ways in which designers can seek to achieve sustainable solutions for clients, through innovation, new technologies, collaboration, multi-disciplinary design, and a possible re-organisation of the current standards used. While only ideas at this time, they would require strong support, both institutional and financial.
If the current way that infrastructure is designed and delivered is a challenge for embracing sustainability, is there a way in which this can be resolved? As stated above, there is a weak link between the design and the actual achievement of sustainable development, due to practicalities such as cost or time.
Incentives are a potential medium to communicate and reach a desired outcome. If there is a “dangling a carrot” approach to achieving a sustainable product, there could be more positive results seen. For example, incentives such as relaxed planning obligations for more sustainable infrastructure, or levies on less sustainable infrastructure can make it unattractive to deliver the less sustainable solution. “Potential avenues for these types of intervention are through policies such as the Paris Agreement (COP 21), which is the first universal, legally binding global climate change agreement due to come in force in 2020” says Chris Law, chair of Progress Network London.
To solve this, we must also look back to the client’s objective to achieve value for money and the difficulty in realising this today through sustainable development. Is there a way in which infrastructure can add value, or provide a return on investment to the client?
This could potentially be a way in which infrastructure can warrant more attention and investment. The current idea that infrastructure is essentially an upfront capital investment leads to “cutting corners” and insufficient design. This being said, could the current UK model for the development of more strategic infrastructure be a better avenue for success, as the rigorous planning procedures currently in place ensures that public infrastructure is designed and built via thorough consultation processes? However, when considered, this could also be a barrier to foreign direct investment as a result of too much uncertainty in the timescales for delivery.
The outlook is uncertain for the future landscape of sustainable infrastructure, but the Progress Network London group believes there are definite gaps in the market that can be explored to seek improvements and efficiencies.