We must ensure that our infrastructure is fit for purpose - Hannah Smith

The way we live our lives and design our communities will need to change radically if we are to ensure we have a green post-Covid recovery, that we reach net zero carbon targets and we improve health and wellbeing.

Hannah Smith, ICE Scotland Director
Hannah Smith, ICE Scotland Director

It will require new ways of working to achieve the ‘new normal’ that embeds resilience into how our buildings, infrastructure, landscape, cities, towns, villages and neighbourhoods function and develop over time. Decisions made by the next Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government will have a key role to play in this.

That is why I was delighted to attend the recent Cross Party Group on Architecture and the Built Environment to talk about the ‘one big idea’ that would provide transformational change.

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I was joined by five other built environment professional bodies - the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland, Built Environment Forum Scotland and Landscape Institute Scotland, each of whom also presented their idea for transformational change.

Ahead of the CPG meeting the groups - which represent a combined membership of around 22,500 people – issued a joint statement calling on the next Scottish Government to better co-ordinate legislation, strategies and funding so its vision of a sustainable, resilient and inclusive future can be achieved.

As professional bodies, we believe that there must be a shift from overlapping and disjointed strategies to policy making that is complementary and synergised, and from an opportunistic, reactive approach to development to a planned, proactive approach.

One such way we can work proactively and in synergy is by coming together to conduct a ‘resiliency audit’ of our infrastructure – the ‘one idea’ ICE Scotland brought to the table.

Extreme weather means that much of our infrastructure is facing pressures it simply wasn’t designed to withstand. The Scottish Government’s recently published Infrastructure Investment Plan acknowledged that with an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather events, there is a need to modify ‘current infrastructure and design future assets to be more resilient to the effects of climate change’.

But this recognition must translate to action.

A resiliency audit would allow us to take a holistic view of areas of weakness in our infrastructure landscape, and map those against areas of biggest opportunity.

We need to break out of the current siloed way of thinking and bring together the public, private and third sectors along with professional bodies and academia to consider the big picture of Scotland’s infrastructure.

In our ‘State of the Nation 2020: Climate Ready Infrastructure’ report, published in November, our research showed the benefits of the work being proposed had economic, societal and environmental benefits and met a number of strands of the Scottish Government’s own National Performance Framework.

This supports the new investment hierarchy proposed in the IIP which prioritises maintaining and enhancing assets over new build.

It should also encourage a much more strategic approach to investment so it not only has the biggest impact on Scotland’s infrastructure landscape, but also enables industry to get behind a pipeline of adaptation and enhancement work, invest in new technologies and skills and kick-start our economic recovery.

None of these ideas are new. But they are long overdue. We must ensure our infrastructure is fit for purpose – resilient, well maintained, and able to withstand the climate impacts we are seeing – and the time to deliver that is now.

Hannah Smith ICE Scotland Director

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