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Landmark report on infrastructure and the 2050 net zero target launched

The relationship between infrastructure and the 2050 net zero target is the focus of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) State of the Nation 2020 report.

The UK has a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to recalibrate the economy” and build a net zero future, says ICE. The new report, published on 1 July 2020, sets out a range of policy interventions for government and industry.

SWIP contributed to the report through two evidence-gathering workshops in Bristol and Truro in early 2020 and a comprehensive response, bringing together insight from infrastructure experts across the region.

ICE says the Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented chance to reset the way we design, build and operate infrastructure in the future. To achieve the ambitious 2050 target, and with infrastructure making up around 60% of total UK emissions, a systemic and wholesale change to the procurement and delivery of infrastructure across the UK is needed.

The UK was already failing to meet the less ambitious target of 80% reduction by 2050, so action to make significant changes in infrastructure delivery must happen now, warns the ICE  in its State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the 2050 Net-Zero Target.

The report outlines actions and policy interventions that should be considered to encourage the sector, and the UK economy more widely, move in this direction. These include a Net-Zero Infrastructure Plan, to set a strategic direction for the built environment sector; reform of the government’s Green Book, to better reflect the net-zero target in project appraisals and assessment; and updating models of regulation to further promote the achievement of net zero.

Keith Howells, ICE Vice President and State of the Nation Steering Group Chair, said: 

“The climate emergency and net zero transition present an unprecedented challenge for engineers to solve. We have a critical role and responsibility to do all we can to aid society in this important transformation, but we need a supportive environment that empowers us, and influences users’ behaviours. 

“The pandemic provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recalibrate the economy and create systemic and wholesale change to the infrastructure ecosystem. Our report outlines how, through collaboration and change, we can plan, build and operate infrastructure that meets the needs of the future.” 

In recognising that achieving the net-zero target is everyone’s responsibility, the Institution surveyed the public about who, and where, changes should be made. Around two thirds of British adults surveyed thought the UK Government (69%) and business (65%) were mainly responsible for reaching the target. However, only one third (31%) said they thought the government had a plan to achieve this. 

The report makes recommendations about how the move to net zero should be financed, again calling for the establishment of a UK Investment Bank. It also suggests that an Infrastructure Skills Plan be delivered, to ensure the UK has the capability within the built environment sector for the transition to net zero. 

The report concludes by setting out actions being undertaken by the Institution for it to continue supporting the built environment sector in the transition to net zero. Through a long-term programme of collaborative work, ICE will seek to share knowledge and best practice on delivering low-carbon solutions across the industry.

Download a copy of the report here  

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Blog post: Cosmic Cuts 84,000 Miles Driving During Lockdown

This month, Cosmic has written a guest blog post for the SWIP website, looking at reducing driving during lockdown.

Devon-based social enterprise, Cosmic, have cut 84,000 miles of driving during lockdown by transitioning to virtual skills training delivery. The company has a vision to inspire people to achieve success in the digital world, and has used the Covid19 situation to alter the way they support communities in Devon and Somerset.

Over the course of 3 months since early March 2020, the Company has ceased all road travel. Ordinarily, the forty-strong team of Digital Skills Trainers, Technicians and Developers travel thousands of miles around the counties of the South West – helping businesses and communities to develop new Digital Skills. In order to attend training events, it is typical for participants to also travel considerable distances, often by private car.

The Company has become increasingly aware of the Carbon Footprint of this process, and has big ambitions to reduce their impact. In 2019 Cosmic planted 400 trees around Dartmoor to offset its unavoidable programme of travel, whilst accepting that offsetting alone would not be sufficient to minimise the harm to the environment.

Since the outbreak of Covid19, the Company has taken advantage of the lockdown, transitioning all face-to-face Digital Skills training and services to virtual sessions. The popularity has been enormous, with hundreds of small-business owners from the South West attending online courses over the ten weeks.

The result has been a saving of:

  • 60,000 miles of commuting and business travel by staff – not driven
  • 24,000 miles of car travel from attendees to Cosmic events – not driven
  • And 28 tonnes of CO2 – not released into the atmosphere
  • It would take 56 mature oak trees a year to capture this much carbon.

The Covid19 situation has accelerated Cosmic’s ambitions to become greener. Even if social distancing were fully removed, the Company aims to deliver more of its training remotely and significantly reduce staff-travel. Furthermore, this acceleration in transitioning to virtual work-processes has created capacity for Cosmic to now consider the next steps in their Environmental Action Plan – advancing their “green” ambitions by at least 18 months.

Cosmic want to encourage all industries to rebuild themselves in a greener, more sustainable way. The cost saving for businesses can be enormous; thousands of pounds that would otherwise be spent on fuel. If we could all realise similar savings, the surplus funds could be redistributed to enhance investment in digital resources and digital skills training for staff, future-proofing businesses & organisations in our region.

Where money would be traditionally spent on staff travel, and where working hours lost to time on trains and traffic jams, a transition to remote and virtual working releases resources for new “green” purposes. Cosmic want to see a societal shift with how industry looks to decarbonise in the wake of Covid19, and are willing to support organisations looking to transition to new Digital ways of working.

About Cosmic

  • Cosmic provides an innovative range of services and support to help people identify their Digital needs and tackle Digital Exclusion. They are a Social Enterprise, existing to: help people; protect the planet; and drive prosperity.
  • Based in East Devon, they have been operating for 23 years.

A team of 40 Digital Skills Trainers, IT Technicians and Website Developers work with charities, community groups, local authorities, small businesses and large corporations.

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The Big Question: What will the coronavirus pandemic mean for net zero?

The UK’s COVID-19 lockdown has dramatically changed the way society uses our infrastructure systems with empty roads, quiet airports and cleaner air, just some of the consequences.

But what does this mean for the ongoing challenge of decarbonisation and achieving net zero emissions by 2050?

Will the coronavirus pandemic lead to permanent change in the way we use transport and infrastructure? Will it take us in a new direction, more compatible with net zero? Or given the devastating impact on business, industry and jobs, will decarbonisation have to take a back seat as we rebuild our economy?

Paul Sheffield, ICE president joined a diverse panel of speakers, representing different interests in the debate, including local government, industry and academia.

In a ‘Question Time-style’ format, the panel answered questions on net zero, infrastructure decarbonisation and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The online debate was organised by ICE South West as part of the president’s ‘virtual visit’ to the region.

Peter Kydd, Chair of the South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP), hosted the discussion.

The panel included:

  • Paul Sheffield, ICE president
  • Paula Hewitt, Lead Director for Economic and Community Infrastructure & Director of Commissioning, Somerset County Council
  • Katy Toms, Senior Engineer, WSP and ICE South West Regional Chair
  • Professor Colin Taylor, University of Bristol and member of South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP).

To find out more, please visit: https://www.ice.org.uk/eventarchive/what-will-coronavirus-mean-for-net-zero-online

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Demand from South West to restore Beeching lines as deadline for proposals closes

  • 18 proposals submitted to build or reopen lines and stations across the South West, closed in and around the Beeching cuts
  • Bids will now be considered by expert panel, taking next step toward improve connectivity for communities across the country
  • Part of wider £500million Restoring Your Railway fund to level up the country

Eighteen bids to build or reopen lines and stations closed during the Beeching cuts, with the potential to level up regional economies and boost access to jobs and education, have been received from across the South West, the Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has announced today (Tuesday, June 30).

MPs and local authorities have bid for a share of the second round of the Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’, to develop proposals to build or reopen railway lines and stations, including those closed by British Rail chief Dr Richard Beeching from 1963.

Proposals for the restoration of lines and stations to re-connect their communities will now be considered by an expert panel including Network Rail Chair Sir Peter Hendy, with announcements regarding the successful schemes expected by the end of the summer.

The Rail Minister announced that 50 proposals have been submitted from right across the country. These include proposals from MPs in the South West to transform the Newquay line, reopen Charfield station, reinstate the Bodmin to Wadebridge railway and the Ashburton & Buckfastleigh Junction Railway.

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said:

“Receiving so many bids once again underlines how passionate people areabout reconnecting communities.

“Local MPs, councillors and community leaders are the greatest champions of their local lines, and I look forward to working with them to ensure the projects with the greatest potential have the support they need.

“Improving local transport links is vital as we level up access to opportunities across the country, reconnect communities and kickstart our recovery from Covid-19.”

Today’s news follows the announcement in May that ten bids will receive a share of the first round of the Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’.  One scheme in the South West was awarded up to £50,000 to progress plans to improve local connectivity, bringing communities one step closer to better rail connections with the capacity to boost job opportunities and ease congestion.

As part of the Restoring Your Railway Fund, the Government also announced the third round of the New Stations Fund, which will invest £20 million in new stations and help restore closed stations to their former glory. The fund has now closed with a decision on successful applicants due in the Autumn.

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South West infrastructure experts join forces to confront the climate challenge

Civil engineers and infrastructure experts from across the South West came together for two workshops to map out a greener future for the region’s infrastructure network.

The workshops called Decarbonisation: The Path to Net Zero identified a vision for a low carbon infrastructure system to meet the region’s needs and challenges, and provided a road map on how to move the South West forward on the path to net-zero.

Working with the University of Bristol, the workshops were organised by the South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP), a body formed by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) South West to bring together senior engineers from each infrastructure sector to discuss and collaborate on the region’s infrastructure provision.

The workshops took place on Wednesday 29 January at the Watershed Arts Centre, Bristol and on Thursday 6 February at Truro Community Library, Cornwall.

Peter Kydd, ICE Fellow and member of SWIP, said:

“The South West has distinct infrastructure challenges, not least the vulnerability of many communities to rising sea levels and flooding. As engineers, we have a crucial role to play in adapting our infrastructure to cope with the impacts of climate change and redesigning infrastructure, whether that’s power or transport, to use low carbon technologies. The workshops brought together infrastructure engineers from all backgrounds to explore the many different pathways to low carbon and coagulated a strategic approach that is fit for purpose in the South West.”

In collaboration with the University of Bristol’s Infrastructure Observatory, SWIP will feed the discussion and ideas generated at the workshops into its new report, Decarbonisation of the South West Peninsula’s Infrastructure, due to be published later this year.

The workshops will also input into ICE’s State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the Net-Zero Target report, examining the contribution of the UK’s economic infrastructure networks in meeting net-zero emissions by 2050, including an assessment of their current environmental impact. The ICE report will recommend a series of interventions and options to policymakers and industry stakeholders.  

Miranda Housden, ICE South West Regional Director, said:

“This was a unique opportunity for civil engineers to take the lead in the South West on addressing the impacts arising from climate change and contribute to the debate on infrastructure decarbonisation and net-zero.”

More than 120 infrastructure experts from across the region are expected to attend the workshops to contribute to the discussion, led by Dr Neil Carhart, Lecturer in Infrastructure Systems, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Bristol. He commented:

“The ability to successfully manage many long-term infrastructure challenges is hindered by historically fragmented operation, governance and oversight. Addressing the climate emergency requires a joined-up approach that recognises the inherent interdependency between infrastructure systems. These workshops will help the South West develop a powerful collective voice on its infrastructure at the national level and overcome counter-productive decision making that can arise from a fragmented perspective.”

Documents from the two workshops can be downloaded from the knowledge page.

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Next Steps for the South West Infrastructure Partnership

With Covid-19 dominating what is and is not possible, and with no definitive timescales to work to, it is challenging to consider next steps. 

However, we will use the SWIP website as a portal for our audience and plan to deliver the following:

  • Publish our report on the SWIP decarbonization workshops held in January and February of this year;
  • Send out a survey to our members and stakeholders to gather and collate your views and priorities with respect to influencing the future shape of South West Infrastructure;
  • Add links and summaries to our evidence base that informs SW infrastructure;
  • Invite your views as to whether the Covid-19 change of behaviours could assist in defining a new normal for the requirements and challenges of delivering infrastructure in the South West.  Could home-working and video conferencing be more effective than commuting at least for part of the week?  And how will the potential higher demand for travel within the UK affect travel in the SW?  And does it enable some of the harder decisions necessary to achieve net zero by 2050 to be accelerated (for example aviation, rail, road)?