Research in Infrastructure – a Transformative Opportunity


Research in infrastructure in the UK is estimated to have been some £500M over the last five years, remarkably small given the scale of the £466B infrastructure investment planned in the UK National Infrastructure Pipeline. The cost to the UK of inadequate infrastructure is estimated to be in the order £2M per day or £0.75B per year. This does not include extreme events, where direct costs can be in the £100Ms per incident, and indirect impacts much greater than that, due to lack of resilience. Furthermore, national and local infrastructure (for transport, water, waste, energy, and ICT) in the UK falls short of being fit for purpose in supporting societal development in a changing world. Current infrastructure responses to challenges such as extreme events, climate change, resource security, stimulating economic growth, exploiting innovative technology and changing societal needs – both now and in the far future – are all found wanting. Current policies of patching our ageing infrastructure using traditional techniques are not providing affordable and sustainable solutions for the future.

There is therefore a an urgent need, and a transformative opportunity, to develop and exploit major advances in scientific understanding (including in the social and environmental sciences), multidisciplinary systems thinking, technological innovation and engineering, and manufacturing methods to adapt and augment the national economic infrastructure in a way that safeguards and enhances its multiple benefits with regard to economic growth, extreme event resilience, social wellbeing, environmental sustainability and export potential. A further research challenge is to understand how all aspects of infrastructure symbiotically serve the evolving needs and ambitions of nations and cities within the UK and elsewhere.

UKCRIC is a new £300M research programme that will address the above shortcomings in a focussed and evidenced-based way, leveraging existing investments in facilities and people to best effect. It will scale up existing research programmes to address near term issues such as investment in rail systems, roads, and flood and water management; and employ smart sensors and systems to generate open and big data for optimising the use of assets and investments. In the longer term, UKCRIC will develop new materials, new techniques and novel technologies. At the highest level, it will understand how to make the system of systems that constitutes the nation’s infrastructure more resilient to extreme events and more adaptable to changing circumstances and contexts, and how it can provide services that are more affordable, accessible and useable to the whole population.

The lecture will give an overview of current infrastructure issues in nations and cities and describe how UKCRIC is constructing the research programmes aimed at addressing them.

About the Speaker

Professor Brian Collins is Professor of Engineering Policy at University College London. He is a co-investigator on a £10M research programme investigating liveable cities for the future. He is also PI for a research project, International Centre for Infrastructure Futures (ICIF), looking at new business models for infrastructure modernization. He is the convenor of UKCRIC, a newly formed multi university multi-million pound research endeavor to transform infrastructure research in the UK.

The UKCRIC vision addresses the insufficient and unsustainable value extracted by services using national infrastructure. UKCRIC’s overarching objective is to create and operate a national and international multidisciplinary research programme that addresses the issues of unaffordable and unsustainable infrastructure development and operation, in a partnership between Industry, Government and Academia. To achieve this, UKCRIC starts with enhanced capital investment in shared facilities in academic institutions, but will involve further development of a wide range of multidisciplinary research and teaching programmes.

He was the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) for the UK Department for Transport (DfT) and CSA for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) from 2006 to 2011.

In 2009 Professor Collins was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. In the 2011 New Year Honours List, he was bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen the Honour of Companion of the Bath (CB).

Professor Collins holds a MA in Physics and a DPhil in Astrophysics from the University of Oxford.