Insight: Supporting Delivery of Government Priorities and the National Infrastructure Strategy

UKCRIC's systemic approach is essential to de-risking the UK’s planned £600Bn 10-year investment in infrastructure
Insight: Supporting Delivery of Government Priorities and the National Infrastructure Strategy

Established in 2015 as the UK’s interdisciplinary infrastructure and urban systems hub, UKCRIC brings together hundreds of researchers in 15 internationally recognised UK universities. It was funded as a geographically dispersed proto-institute to establish the national-scale, regionally-led collaborative research needed to transform the UK’s infrastructure and urban systems for net zero, safe, healthy, resilient and sustainable living; to generate economic opportunities for the UK; and to drive economic growth through improving skills provision and levelling up. Its systemic approach is essential to de-risking the UK’s planned £600Bn 10-year investment in infrastructure and urban systems engineering.

Deliberately rejecting the idea of a single geographical centre, UKCRIC Phase 1 (completing in March 2022) has:

  • built a new, £300M world-class national network of 11 engineering laboratories; 6 full-scale urban observatories; and computer modelling, simulation and visualisation capabilities (DAFNI)
  • established a regional approach to research and skills development in infrastructure and cities
  • created Scientific Missions and Research Routemaps focusing on net zero, resilience, innovation and digital twins

UKCRIC’s Scientific Missions and Research Routemaps play directly to the UK Government’s goals of net zero carbon and levelling up, supporting the UK National Infrastructure Strategy’s (NIS’s) call for an ambitious programme to rebuild “fairer, faster and greener”. The NIS calls for an “infrastructure revolution”, driven by skills, research and innovation. 

Fundamental to the delivery of the NIS – and aligning with UKCRIC’s vision, mission and capabilities – is the understanding that “Infrastructure underpins the economy. Transport, digital, energy and utility networks are vital for jobs, businesses and economic growth. But they also have a profound impact on people’s daily lives.” The NIS recognises that infrastructure will not level up Britain on its own. “We must work on skills, on research and on innovation to create new, wealth-generating clusters across the country.” This is exactly what UKCRIC is doing and can continue to do, dependent on the availability of further support.

Infrastructure and cities research crosses disciplines and specialisms. UKCRIC necessarily has strong connections with other national research institutes including Alan Turing (data and digital), Henry Royce (materials), the National Composites Centre, the Productivity Institute and the Active Building Centre – catalysing a network of the UK’s leading research institutes. Amongst its routes to creating change, it is actively supporting the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) Project-X and the Climate Change Committee (CCC). UKCRIC is advising on major projects such as HS2, the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and the Highways England Smart Motorways Programme, as well as on underpinning aspects of the Critical National Infrastructure and the Union Connectivity reviews. UKCRIC also has well-established collaborations with leading infrastructure and cities research institutions globally including the Australian SMART Infrastructure Facility, JPI Urban Europe and TU Delft Next Generation Infrastructure.

UKCRIC is committed to strengthening the contributions that resilient infrastructure systems and cities make to UK Government priorities: net zero carbon emissions; sustainable, economic growth; quality of life; innovation and competitiveness; productivity; and social equity. It is a key provider of the skills, collaborations, research and innovation required to support Government priorities and the National Infrastructure Strategy.

UKCRIC’s Contribution to the National Infrastructure Strategy

Driving recovery and rebuilding the economy

The construction industry is set to play a major role in society’s recovery from Covid, but this must be within the context of the overarching need to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, avoid pollution, foster biodiversity and use the earth’s resources sustainably. UKCRIC’s test facilities were specifically designed to address the entirety of this multifaceted challenge, not just the construction and engineering elements, including understanding how people interact in, and with, different environments. UKCRIC’s Scientific Missions and Research Routemaps drive the underpinning science, engineering and digital technologies as well as the new governance and business models needed to balance risk and be responsive to innovation and change.

Levelling up and strengthening the Union

UKCRIC has a presence in every region of England and in Scotland and will shortly expand into Wales and Northern Ireland. This geographically dispersed network supports regional growth and productivity and generates intensive collaboration between academic institutions from different parts of the UK alongside deepening and productive relationships with the private sector, local government, investors, citizens and communities. UKCRIC spreads leadership roles to benefit from UK-wide perspectives and its Scientific Missions enable its researchers to engage and develop their research within regional, national and international frames of reference. UKCRIC’s Doctoral Academy and Post-doctoral, Early Career Researcher and CPD Training Centre provide a pipeline of highly skilled professionals in, and able to work across, a multiplicity of disciplines and sector specialisms. Through UKCRIC, the latest cities and infrastructure research, systems thinking and transdisciplinary research skills are being embedded into the nation’s undergraduate and graduate courses producing the UK’s next generation of cutting-edge professionals and graduates.

Decarbonising the economy and adapting to climate change: putting the UK on the path to meeting its net zero emissions target by 2050

UKCRIC gives the UK the opportunity to unlock the globally significant potential that infrastructure and cities have to catalyse progress towards an economically vibrant, sustainable, resilient, net zero future. UKCRIC has the capacity and balance of expertise needed to meet demanding net zero targets. Evidenced in UKCRIC’s work with the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, East West Rail and HS2, UKCRIC’s Urban Observatories and DAFNI provide the real-time data, digital twin, modelling and simulation capabilities that are essential for de-risking net zero policies and practices. UKCRIC’s laboratories provide the test facilities needed for net zero solutions, such as affordable electrification and decarbonised concrete, to be implemented with confidence.

Supporting private investment in infrastructure

Current tools for planning complex infrastructure and urban environments are not sophisticated enough to be able to identify all the value that will be created, or to model completely the risks; both are essential to attracting private investment. Through its Scientific Missions and Research Routemaps, UKCRIC is addressing the multi-levelled challenges associated with attracting and deploying capital and operational investments in formats that meet shifting provision requirements in the short-run (e.g., rapid strategic realignments), while also attaining value-for-money in the long-term (e.g., slower-paced asset and service evolution). For major capital investment, this means that ownership structures and financial strategies must align if they are to deliver at the necessary pace. For day-to-day maintenance, the evaluation, renewal and maintenance of existing assets must be ‘future proofed’, bridging to appropriate alternatives when assets are at the end of their lives.

Accelerating and improving delivery

UKCRIC’s facilities place the UK at the forefront of the global quest to develop national digital twins that can be used to simulate, test and optimise complex systems. By 2028 the global digital twin market size is expected to reach USD 86Bn, with 30% of this in Europe. Development of a distributed national infrastructure digital twin will provide the evidence needed to make key investment decisions, including how to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, with lower risk and higher confidence. It enables long-term planning, predictive maintenance and real-time infrastructure systems control and would be an asset of worldwide significance, helping to strengthen the UK economy by delivering to a global infrastructure marketplace.

Image credit: Jordhan Madec via Unsplash