Why we all need a Collaboratorium now
Recently a renowned group of academic, government and industrial representatives gathered at Caius College in Cambridge to begin the task of setting the road-map for an ambitious research programme to support the UK’s long-term investment programme in infrastructure.
Professor Brian Collins, ex-Chief Scientific Advisor to two government departments and now Professor of Engineering Policy at University College London, is leading a consortium of 14 Universities to promote co-ordinated research to de-risk, help prioritise and provide evidence for investment in the physical components of our cities and countryside, which in turn help promote the well-being not only of the economy, but each of us as citizens.
The UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities (UK-CRIC for short) has been lobbying the Government for funding and is hopeful that, with the growing recognition of the cost to the country when infrastructure fails or lacks the necessary resilience to accommodate our increasingly volatile weather conditions, their support will be secured in the very near future.
Assuming that positive statements made in the recent past are fulfilled, the establishment of UK-CRIC, following hard on the heels of the National Infrastructure Commission, seems to suggest that the Government is at last beginning to recognise the need for strategic thinking to be applied to way our transport networks and services, utility plants and grids, and our information and communications technology connectivity are planned and delivered.
This is something that cannot happen quickly enough. In the same week two pieces of evidence have emerged further demonstrating how channelized and muddled current thinking has become in this area. First the Government Select Committee on Transport published its report on Surface Transport to Airports. The chair of the committee, Louise Ellman MP, was highly critical of Government performance, highlighting “…the failure to develop an integrated approach to transport planning, from the absence of a decision on airport expansion in the South East, to the lack of a clear plan to upgrade our rail infrastructure which effectively links cities and airports…”. Equally damning were the words of one of our most distinguished practitioners of urban development, Terry Farrell, in his assessment of the lack of co-ordinated planning between two of London’s flagship projects, Crossrail and Old Oak Common regeneration development. “This is probably the biggest cock-up that I have seen in my career of 50 years in London”, is his succinct summary of this latest example of thinking in silos (Terry Farrell on Crossrail and OOC). Hold on a bit longer Terry, we haven’t yet started on HS2 and Crossrail2 at Euston*. I think for that you might have to insert the word ‘monumental’.
Let us hope that Lord Adonis and his Commission quickly find their feet and start to bring some leadership and coherence to the challenge of our national infrastructure investment – their first report due in May is eagerly awaited. Equally, let us hope that Professor Brian and colleagues are allowed to provide much needed guidance, research and intellectual rigour to this important area.