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Infrastructure analysis and forecasting wizards

ITRC open new debate on the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc

Jim Hall, Director of the UK ITRC, outlines his vision for a cohesive, joined-up approach to multi-infrastructure projects.

Jim Hall

Jim Hall, Director of the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium and Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks at the University of Oxford, outlines his vision for a cohesive, joined-up approach to multi-infrastructure projects, and invites collaboration on the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc development.

At the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), we research and produce models to help people plan infrastructure developments at local, national and global level. Using our “systems of systems” approach, we can uniquely produce scenarios and visualisations across several infrastructure types at once.

Some of the key trends we’d like to see coming through strongly in infrastructure in the construction industry are:

  • Building sustainably, with methods and materials which aren’t detrimental to the planet, and which aren’t unreachable financially.
  • More examples of collaboration between industry, government and academia coming through, to build on those already in place.
  • Multi-authority or cross-authority projects becoming more of the norm, rather than having hard lines over arbitrary unitary borders.

The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc (the Arc) which has been proposed as a knowledge-intensive, economic cluster spanning the heart of England, is a pressing example of the need for a cohesive approach and collaboration between local authorities and other agencies.

The vision for the Arc is that new, high value businesses will be supported by new transport infrastructure and housing development.

This would be the first development of its kind to impact upon so many local authorities, with 34 potentially being affected, from new transport links to new housing developments in their area.

One of the challenges of this development is moving towards a holistic approach which puts the public good at its core, rather than focusing on any individual local authority or at town level. Another challenge is balancing a focus on economic growth with fulfilling demands around long-term sustainability and people living decent lives.

In 2017 the National Infrastructure Commission called for consultations on the Arc, in order to “develop and deliver an integrated strategic plan for infrastructure, housing and jobs”. Despite the NIC’s report in November 2017 and the government’s response in 2018, as well as the numerous initiatives that are currently underway involving central and local government, businesses and the universities in the Arc, there are many questions yet to be answered and a clear vision for the Arc, that integrates infrastructure (both grey and green), employment and housing has yet to emerge.

At ITRC one of our key roles is in encouraging collaboration in the infrastructure and construction sector and we were very pleased to be recognised with the Infrastructure Award at the EG Tech Awards in July 2019. Judges said ITRC “hit the brief on so many levels. From innovative infrastructure analysis to a focus on future needs as well as the present. The winner demonstrated a razor-sharp approach to tackling infrastructure issues head on”.

ITRC itself is built on a collaborative approach; we are a consortium of seven leading UK universities, including the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

For the last eight years we have been developing models and analytical methods for the planning of national infrastructure systems: energy, transport, digital communications and water. The ITRC has developed methods for simulating future population, housing growth and demand for infrastructure services, and exploring how the necessary infrastructure can be provided affordably, securely and sustainably.

In our April article for UK Construction Online we touched on how our PopNation and Urban Development models can help projects predict future demographic changes and identify areas in the UK suitable for future residential development.

In order to better understand the issues at stake, we have held in-depth discussions with 22 prominent stakeholder organisations leading the development of the Arc in central, regional and local government, as well as universities, independent agencies and businesses, to answer questions including:”

We’re currently using our models and analytics to explore possible futures for the Arc, to answer questions including:

  • Where could future housing development be located in the Arc?
  • Can enough water be supplied for an increased number of inhabitants?
  • Can the housing and infrastructure in the Arc be made carbon neutral?
  • How can cherished natural habitats be preserved?
  • How much will it cost to provide an Arc that is connected with 5G communications and fibre to every home?

This November’s “ITRC Consultation and Dissemination Event” will combine a presentation of the ITRC’s new analysis of the Arc and evidence-based tools to understand the risks and opportunities involved in its development, together with keynote presentations from stakeholders in the initiative.

We will also host panel discussions to tackle the complex challenges implied by the Arc, and aim to demonstrate the capabilities of the UK’s universities (inside and outside the Arc) to add value and insight to this complex and contested initiative, providing scenarios that stimulate discussion and models that can be used to explore possible futures and navigate trade-offs.

Join us at the ITRC Consultation & Dissemination Event on the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc, on 20th November at the Institute for Civil Engineering in London. Find out more and book your free place

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