ew construction projects impact the landscape on the scale of major infrastructure. Whether it’s Roman roads or Victorian railways, these systems tell the story of Britain’s past and form the foundations of our modern success. They speak to our national identity and say something about who we are and what we’re good at.
This means that for those of us involved in the next generation of nationally significant projects, we share a responsibility to get it right. At the National Infrastructure Commission, we want excellent design to be at the heart of planning and delivery from day one to ensure the inheritance we leave is a proud one. That’s why we established an expert Design Group bringing together leaders in engineering, architecture, landscape and transport, which I’m delighted to chair.
Last week, we launched the UK’s first ever Design Principles for National Infrastructure: climate, people, places and value. We want to inspire everyone involved in creating and maintaining our nation’s infrastructure to embrace each of these considerations and think about what constitutes effective design – from the CEO to the technician.
At its core, this is about ensuring projects support flourishing communities and an enriched environment. First, we believe infrastructure must help set the trajectory for the UK to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner – as well as being capable of adapting to climate change.
Second, projects should be built on a human scale, be instinctive to use and seek opportunities to improve the quality of life for people who live and work nearby. Similarly, schemes should provide a sense of local identity, supporting the natural and built environment, promoting biodiversity and enhancing ecosystems.
Finally, infrastructure should add value beyond its headline purpose, seeking to solve multiple problems and make the best possible use of public money. These principles should be applied to all economic infrastructure: digital communications, energy, transport, flood management, water and waste. They matter for all projects, whether visible or hidden, imposing or unobtrusive.
The publication comes at a timely moment at the start of a seminal decade in which a series of high-profile schemes are being undertaken – and ahead of the Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, which is expected next month. The Design Principles filter through every element of our infrastructure and should be front and centre in the strategy.
While we want ministers to show leadership and formally enshrine this approach in the governance processes for major projects, anyone in the sector can start incorporating the principles into their work today. Ultimately, the best design doesn’t just come from designers, it relies on a combination of talents. I hope our industry is ready to accept this design challenge and I encourage everyone to adopt our guide to think about the part they can play in facilitating great design.
Professor Sadie Morgan OBE, Chair of the National Infrastructure Design Group at the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). Download the Design Principles for National Infrastructure.