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The future of infrastructure and energy in the UK

Above: In the RPC board room at Tower Bridge House the IPA, EDF Renewables, National Grid ESO (Anna Carolina Tortora, Head of Innovation Strategy and Digital Transformation speaking) and LDA Design were among the contributors at our research roundtable = with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and London Councils joining remotely

Future Cities Forum's 'Infrastructure, construction and energy' discussion was hosted by leading law firm RPC LLP, in London last week.

Questions were asked around whether the planning system in the UK should be updated to allow for the swifter delivery of infrastructure projects, how the east of England would deal with scarcity of water in developing 'Silicon Fen' and why the introduction of a new low carbon energy system is proving to be challenging for the country?

Karl Fitzgerald, Director of Project, Programme and Portfolio Management, at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, explained that the planning system in his view is an easy target with it being 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 OxCam Arc 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.'

Future Cities Forum is very grateful to Karl for the insight he brought to the debate.

Also joining the discussion were (pictured above) National Grid ESO's Head of Innovation and Digital Transformation Strategy, Anna Carolina Tortora, London Council's Strategic Head of Economy, Enterprise and Skills, Dianna Neal , LDA Design Director Alister Kratt (who sits on the design advisory panel of the NIC), Federated Hermes / MEPC's Commercial Development Director Ross Fittall (who oversees Paradise Birmingham), Buro Happold Director Alasdair Young, Architect Director at BDP, Tom Hewitt, Marianne Costigan, Head of Private Wire, EDF Renewables, Henri Murison, Director, Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Helen Ellerton, Head of Transport Policy, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Grimshaw's Chris Patience (Project Lead for the HS2 Colne Valley Viaduct) and Associate Principal Nick Hawkes, HOK's Science + Technology Practice regional leader Gary Clark (representing the Construction Industry Council), and RPC Partners Liz Alibhai and Arash Rajai.

Watch out for our further blog reports on the discussion over the coming weeks.

Below: Tower Bridge House, London HQ of law firm RPC LLP and venue for Future Cities Forum's infrastructure discussions - facing the Tower of London UNESCO World Heritage Site


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