Highways UK | What sort of revolution is highways Infrastructure really trying to deliver?
At i4intrinsic, we know that having a vision of what you want to achieve isn’t the same as understanding how to make it real. Just the same as being able to develop a 3D model of a highway improvement doesn’t mean that you know how to complete the construction.But so many organisations plough straight in, wading their way through a morass of problems in search of nirvana. Believing that because they can create a compelling vision that’s half the problem over. The truth is that creating the vision is the easy part.Let’s take the case for investing in highways infrastructure.
It’s not just about building a road.
The National Infrastructure Commission in the recent call to action consultation on ‘Priorities for Infrastructure’ has given a clear steer. Infrastructure helps to build society, connections, livable city regions: linking homes and jobs, there needs to be a revolution in road transport to build a stronger economy.
It’s clear that the vision for building a better future for Britain sits at the very start of the planning process and this carries through to when the business case is first developed. The vision for the scheme doesn’t just focus on the highway, it focuses on what the highway is going to do. It focuses on the new housing that is going to be enabled by the reduced commuting times, the productivity gains from better journeys, the new jobs from increased investment in the local economy, the combined impact on economic growth and the better lifestyles that we’ll all enjoy as a result.
From the business case, the scheme shifts into feasibility, proving that the physical infrastructure can (or occasionally can’t) be delivered within the cost envelope. The vision is adjusted if necessary. Perhaps the noise is going to be a bit more for local residents nearest the scheme and air quality isn’t going to quite be as good as it was but the benefit cost ratio is still healthily around 2.5.
So far, so good.
Then comes the options. Different ones are proposed, the benefit cost ratio of each is taken into consideration along with some analysis of whether these alternatives will deliver on the vision that started it all. But already, the perspective has shifted from the vision to the highway. The strategic outcomes are becoming blurred because the focus has shifted to the highway and away from what is being enabled by the highway.
No one is asking the basic questions about who is going to do the hard part of delivering the additional housing, the productivity gains and new jobs. Who is going to invest in the new businesses and where will this economic growth come from? In what ways will all of our lives be better and how do we help achieve that?
The options that are being considered are route options not alternative development plans.
Once the preferred route announcement has been made all the focus shifts to the design of the highway, not the design of the national/regional solution. If there’s a development consent order, whilst the accuracy of the benefit cost ratio might be questioned, only minimal consideration is given to the question of the benefits delivery. It’s more about how can the design be constructed in a way that deals with any of the relevant objections. A worthy concern, but a far cry from where it all started.
Little attention is given to the original business case and many of the design staff never see it. It’s heads down, considering drainage channels, junctions, lighting and signage.
There’s no design standard for economic growth, urban regeneration or quality of life.
Construction focuses on building the design in the quickest, safest, at least cost and when the cones are finally cleared away, the lessons learnt report is filed and the scheme archived.
So, was the vision delivered? No one knows. At best there’s a hope that with the nice new stretch of highway hums to the sound of thundering traffic that somehow amidst all that transport, someone is leaving for a first day at work from their new build home thanks to the investment of an investor who has the vision to see the highway for what it is; an opportunity for the whole of the society and every level of the economy, if its managed that way.
Where did it all go wrong? I4intrinsic’s experience, supported by research, is that if you seriously want to deliver a vision of the future then you need to keep asking yourself ‘What are we really trying to deliver here and are we doing everything we need to in order to achieve it? Are we focusing on what’s really important?’
What sort of revolution is highways Infrastructure really trying to deliver? Find out at Highways UK.
Robert Smithbury is director for transformation practice at i4intrinsic. He is talking further on turning strategy into action within the Highways UK main conference next Wednesday afternoon. You will also find a more detailed analysis of the issue in 14intrinsic’s new white paper Strategy into action in highways infrastructure, available here