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Infrastructure & Projects Authority to speak at our Cambridge 'Science Cities' event this September

Image: Karl Fitzgerald, courtesy of the IPA

Future Cities Forum is delighted that Karl Fitzgerald, Director of Project, Programme and Portfolio Management, at the Infrastructure & Projects Authority, is to speak at its autumn conference hosted by the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC). He will be joining CBC Managing Director, Nick Kirby and the Chair of Homes England, Peter Freeman.

Questions will be asked about the development of joined-up housing and infrastructure as Cambridgeshire expands as a world-leading science destination. How can Cambridge provide enough housing for all levels of employment being created in 'Silicon Fen' and how can the water shortage, which affects building and construction, be tackled by the new UK government?

At our April forum in London, Karl described his concerns with the current UK planning system and growth of the OxCam Arc. Chancellor Rachel Reeves has promised to review green belt boundaries to prioritise brownfield and grey belt land in the bid to meet housing targets. The UK government has also confirmed that it will bring in mandatory housing targets to meet the promised 1.5 million homes it says it will build over the next five years.

Karl explained that the planning system in his view is an easy target for criticism, as it quite 'baroque' - that it has its flaws and challenges, and 'tinkering with it' slows it down which means investment also slows, practitioners pause and that has a 'braking' effect. He also stated that resource and capacity issues are a big concern.

On the OxCam Arc, he described how ambitions for growth across the Arc region are still current with Milton Keynes wanting to expand. In terms of infrastructure he said that East West Railway is progressing, but there is a lack of a supervising authority to oversee it. Growth and development with the lack of water in and around Cambridge may have some serious implications on individual consumer use in the east of England he explained, as it could take up to ten years to create a new reservoir. With the current focus on data and AI innovation, he noted that data centres are often using as much drinking quality water to cool their systems as might be used by a whole village.

Energy transition he said was also challenging:

'The big issue we are facing is about infrastructure connectivity, especially in regard to utilities, energy and water, particularly in the east of England. The energy challenge is a multi-facetted, four dimensional chess problem and our colleagues in the Department for Energy and Net Zero are wrestling with that because there is a transition to a low carbon grid, and a decentralised generating context coming out now, with more solar distributed in different places and expansion of off shore wind farm connectivity.

'The growth in the transmission system to meet that is at a level which is comparable to the investment made in the 1950s to the 1970s but it is really twice that, and it needs to be delivered in the next 20 years. It's a huge challenge both in terms of supply chain and figuring out where it needs to go because of balancing the grid and balancing the sources, inter-connection, generation and demand, and where it comes to communities.

'Where will the growth be? There is lots of pressure from power hungry growth sources such as data centres. It is putting a strain on planning for the grid, and then you have the regulatory framework which was not conceived of for delivering a de-carbonised grid.

'There are the regulatory challenges, the technical challenges, the capacity challenges and then the network geography challenges - people are uncomfortable with more pylons marching across the landscape.'


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