Valuing Infrastructure Conference #ibuild #ceser

26-27 April, 2017, Met Hotel, Leeds

The conference aims to develop the interdisciplinary ‘systems of systems’ approach to sustainable and resilient infrastructure, arising originally from the engineering disciplines, now applied universally and exemplified by HM Treasury’s Valuing Infrastructure Spend.

The conference will be indispensable for all people and groups interested in the value of infrastructure and its wider impact on social provisioning. Policy makers, civil servants, engineers, economists, environmental and social scientists are warmly invited to attend, notably from such diverse backgrounds as:

  • local authorities, national government and regulators seeking efficiency, effectiveness, and new ways of delivering services, in the face of austerity;
  • private infrastructure providers, developers, investors and financiers assessing the long-term value of infrastructure investment, as well as new forms of value realisation;
  • civil society organisations seeking high quality, inclusive infrastructure provision;
  • academics undertaking high-impact interdisciplinary infrastructure research.

We call for abstract submissions from individuals and interdisciplinary teams who employ or address a ‘systems of systems’ approach to infrastructure provision, and/or address the long-term (or ‘whole-life’) economic, social and environmental value of infrastructure. We also call for abstract submissions on the wider impact of infrastructure value and infrastructure financing on social provisioning.

Submit abstracts (of approx. 300 words) by email to:

Submission deadline 7th March; authors to be notified by 21st March.

There will be a subsequent opportunity to submit papers to special issues of international journals including Regional Studies and Infrastructure Asset Management.

Register via the following website:

iBUILD research on UK City Deals presented in Australia

An overview of iBUILD-supported studies on City Deals was presented by Dr Peter O’Brien, from the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS), at a recent forum in Canberra, Australia, of federal, state and local politicians and officials convened by the Regional Australia Institutpete_ause. The Australian federal government has taken a close interest in the UK City Deal model and has begun, in conjunction with state and local government, to roll out similar initiatives in Queensland, Tasmania and New South Wales. Dr O’Brien was invited to share UK experiences to date and to lead a practitioner master-class ahead of a new programme of Australian City Deals being launched in 2017.

Details available at:

Osborne pulls ‘two rabbits out of the hat’? #ibuild @nclceser

By Peter O’Brien, Newcastle University

There were two key announcements in Chancellor George Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party conference, in Manchester, on Monday (5th October), which captured the attention of the national press and media. The first, heavily trailed in advance, was the establishment of an independent infrastructure commission, to be chaired by Lord Andrew Adonis, which will advise the government on how to plan, invest in and deliver ‘strategic’ infrastructure projects.

The creation of a new infrastructure commission could, in theory, enable governments to adopt and implement a long-term, strategic perspective on infrastructure. The commission will be beneficial if it offers innovative advice and guidance on how public and private sectors can individually and together invest in viable schemes. In addition, the commission will receive plaudits if it offers solutions on how individual infrastructure assets and systems can be better integrated across sectors, and how infrastructure can be valued more holistically, and for its economic, social and environmental contributions, moving beyond narrow financial calculations.

Adonis brings three elements to his new role. First, he has a well-known interest in a range of infrastructure issues. Second, Adonis led on Labour’s recent review of cities and devolution policy, and was the chief architect of the North East Independent Economic Review. Third, he has been a vocal commentator, and sometimes critic, on the distinct demands and pressures facing London and its existing infrastructure. As head of the new commission, he will be in a position to impart his own expertise and analysis, which should include a recognition of the important, and yet currently under-utilised, role of local authorities in planning, funding, financing and managing infrastructure provision within the National Infrastructure Plan. This would chime with a key recommendation of the iBUILD 2015 Manifesto, which called for greater devolution of infrastructure responsibility to cities and city regions.

The creation of the new infrastructure commission is also a tacit acknowledgement that the current lack of strategic planning across functional economic geographies in England is making infrastructure planning, investment and delivery of projects, in areas such as housing and transport, difficult – especially in the London ‘mega city-region’ and adjacent home counties. At face value, the creation of the commission represents the latest effort to ‘de-politicise’ infrastructure. However, it also represents a political move by Osborne who will be acutely aware that, in the run-up to David Cameron leaving No.10 in 2020, the commission could provide valuable cover for an incoming Conservative Party Leader and potential Prime Minister.

The second announcement was Osborne’s decision to allow councils in England to retain all the revenue from business rates – an estimated £26 billion. In addition, local authorities will be able to reduce business rates, whilst cities and city regions with elected mayors will have extra powers to add a premium (at a maximum of 2p in the pound) to local business rates to fund new infrastructure projects.

While the fine details are still to be fleshed out, the proposal does represent a fundamental change in local government funding, but the move towards wholesale localisation of business rates raises five important issues for consideration at this stage. First, local government will only have the power to reduce business rates, thus this will favour those authorities that are net contributors, of which many are located in London and the south east of England. This has the potential to exacerbate existing spatial inequalities if there ensues a race to bottom as councils engage in aggressive tax cutting.

Second, the premium on business rates to pay for infrastructure is an initiative that the London Mayor and London Boroughs managed to convince London business to back as part of the overall Crossrail funding package. London First, the business lobbying organisation, was a key broker in swinging business behind the plans for Crossrail. In future, representative business bodies in other regions and cities will need to play a similar role. At the same time, HM Treasury’s insistence that LEP business board members will be able to veto an elected city region mayor’s proposals to introduce a business rate supplement poses fundamental questions about the government’s stated rationale for elected mayors, which could undermine the mandate of the mayor, and the democratic will of local electorates.

Third, greater fiscal autonomy in the form of business rates may have many town hall finance officers breaking out in a cold sweat. The business rate system is creaking, and many local authorities have found it difficult to predict, with accuracy, future revenues. Furthermore, the multitude of appeals within the business rate system has provided additional complications. It is understandable why Osborne has chosen business rates as the tax to decentralise, but the proposed changes come with baggage.

Fourth, Osborne has made a bold political manoeuvre, but it is being taken forward with limited evidence to date of ‘what works’ in the different business rate retention schemes within England. For example, do we have a real, in-depth understanding of how the Greater Manchester 100% business rate retention pilot has functioned thus far? Or that of London’s partial retention scheme? And can we say, with genuine confidence, that there are effective monitoring and evaluation processes in place from such ‘experiments’ that can inform new policy in this area?

Finally, the ability to raise and retain local revenues is only one feature of fiscal autonomy. Devolved territories and cities will remain hamstrung from planning and making long-term infrastructure investments as long as they lack the powers to undertake direct borrowing of substantial amounts of capital. Until such flexibilities are forthcoming, the Chancellor’s fiscal decentralisation proposals risk being seen as more illusion than reality.





‘The 38 Deals?’ #ibuild @nclceser

Peter O’Brien, Newcastle University

By midnight on Friday 4 September, 38 groupings of local authorities, cities, city regions and local enterprise partnerships in England had heeded George Osborne’s call to submit proposals to HM Treasury for new ‘Devolution Deals’, which local areas hope will result in new powers, resources and flexibilities granted in return for governance reform and commitments by local actors to drive local economic growth, primarily through infrastructure investment and renewal.

So we can add the prospect of 38 ‘Devolution Deals’ alongside 28 City Deals in England and Scotland, 4 further Deals for Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Cornwall and 39 Local Growth Deals, which local enterprise partnerships are responsible for delivering; together making a grand total of 110 deals of some form or another. This gives added weight to the argument that we are now in a deal-making world in local and regional development. The sheer volume of deals, in a climate of austerity and significantly reduced institutional and individual resources and capacity, also begs questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of deal-making as a model of implementing decentralisation from the centre to local government.

The 2015 iBUILD Manifesto and Mid-term Review called for infrastructure planning, investment and delivery to be better aligned to city and city region strategies and economies. With City Deals and the potential new Devolution Deals containing strong infrastructure elements, it seems, at least on the face of it, that we are moving in the right direction. However, we should continue to ask whether earlier and more recent developments – through the 110 deals – signal a fundamental shift towards embedding a stronger and longer-term role for local authorities and cities to take greater control over their economies by planning, investing and managing local infrastructure assets and systems? Or are the different variants of Deals simply project and programme-led initiatives, which will last purely for the timescale that particular interventions remain functional?

There are three issues worth considering in the aftermath of the latest dash for devolution. First, with gaps still remaining around the levels of local fiscal autonomy that some cities and city regions want and what HM Treasury is prepared to give, local institutions are increasing searching for new and innovative sources of investment for infrastructure and other capital-intensive activity. These efforts, however, continue to run up against the UK’s highly-centralised political economy, system of governance and Central Government’s deficit reduction strategy.

Second, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, both insist that ‘substantial’ devolution from the latest Deals will only be considered if city regions and others agree to introduce ‘metro-wide’ mayors. This means that localities are faced with the often difficult process of navigating through local sensitivities and concerns that fundamental reforms to local governance are being introduced without public consent or without a cast-iron guarantee of what Central Government will actually give in return for city regions agreeing to elected mayors.

Finally, with 38 new bids on the table, the capacity of Central Government and local institutions to negotiate and agree a large number of new deals will be severely stretched. Expect to see a handful of new Deals agreed in different stages, with the usual suspects ahead of the curve alongside one or two surprises, but equally there will be a large number of disappointed places in the short to medium-term. How Whitehall manages the prospect of initial large-scale ‘gaps on the map’ will be a real test of the Government’s devolution strategy.


Infrastructure Investment in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies #ibuild @nclceser

Report from the Infrastructure Investment in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies Conference

Oxford University, 2 July, 2015

Graham Thrower, Doctoral Researcher, iBUILD and CURDS/ GPS, Newcastle University

This one day conference, jointly hosted by Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Infrastructure Transition Research Consortium, and the Environmental Change Institute, sought to address the ongoing issue of how to close the infrastructure gap in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDEs).

Setting the scene it cited the World Bank’s estimate that US$1-1.5 trillion pa will be needed through 2020 to meet identified infrastructure demand from industry and households. Governments remain financially constrained and attracting private financing is therefore regarded as vital. An aggravating factor in EMDEs has been a lack of bankable projects (though as we shall see not a lack of aspiration) and an uneven enabling environment for private investment. Whilst recent initiatives like the BRICS initiated New Development Bank (NDB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) represent further institutional impetus to address these issues, it is clear that merely increasing funds available for infrastructure development is, on its own, not the answer. Infrastructure assets, as iBUILD has always argued, do not exist in isolation. They are inter-dependent and require a ‘systems-thinking’ approach that does not always sit easily with conventional project financing methodologies. They also, as Hisaka Kamura of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) noted, have cross-border impacts and considerations that recent initiatives like the Silk Road Fund is designed to encompass. Despite this however, a holistic systems approach still poses a challenge to governments, development agencies, MDBs and institutional capital alike.

The demand issue

Bernard Sheehan of the IFC presented an illuminating analysis of current and projected installed power capacity across a number of EMDEs out to 2020. Whereas similar plans a decade ago would have typically shown forecast 5% to 10% increases in capacity; now Ghana, Ivory Coast and Kenya are forecasting a tripling by 2020; Ethiopia and Nigeria a quadrupling; and South Africa a twenty-fold increase. This implied investment equates to 10x the annual total Public Private Investment in African Energy in 2000-2010. In India the increase is 50 fold, China expects to more than double. The investment implications of these plans represent in absolute terms, sums that are simply beyond any ability by the global public and private markets to provide. We should also remember that installed power capacity is not an isolated asset, but perhaps one of the best indicators of an underlying volume of industrial and domestic demand, and therefore implies the construction of a larger underlying installed infrastructure base.

It was at this point that I wondered what was driving these stated targets, and the current universal exhortations to ever greater infrastructure growth. Are we seeing the congruence of (a) a desire by the West to export a model of fiscal conduct, governance, contract and procurement law (Bourdieu’s soft power) via a hegemonic use of PPPs, (b) surplus global institutional capital seeking yield in ever more esoteric markets (as suggested by Marx and Braudel), or (c) the unmediated, endogenous infrastructure needs of nation states. Addressing this latter driver, I think it is clear that there is a genuine underlying need to improve the capacity and quality of installed infrastructure due to factors of population growth, climate change, sustainability and urbanization. Infrastructure however is increasingly seen as a proxy for wider economic development and competitiveness; and the advertisement of ambitious growth plans in this area, as a sign that a country wishes to be part of the developed country club. In a market that is full of investment noise, EMDEs need to ensure their plans are heard. How better to gain investor attention than to ensure these plans are on a grand scale?

The Global institutional picture

The AIIB have set out their stall to be a responsive, fast and easy partner to deal with. With surprising candour, the AIIB stated that they would leave non-financial targets (such as requirements to alleviate poverty, make environmental remediations etc..) to other MDBs/MFIs. The AIIB’s preference for pragmatism over dogma was summed up by their statement: ‘if its bankable, we’ll do that’. Their list of eligible projects was also wider than most MDB peers: brownfield as well as greenfield; and all the usual sectors plus coal. Professor Gordon Clark noted the challenge of keeping the AIIB’s global shareholders and co-investors on board with its goals of environmental and societal sustainability whilst at the same time investing in brownfield coal.

A number of other contributors noted the existence of relative bargaining power as an issue for EMDE borrowers. A recent working paper for the Intergovernmental Group of Twenty Four and the Global Green Growth Institute (Humphreys, 2015) addresses the diminished voice of the EMDE borrower within the MDB approval process. This has led to borrowers pursuing more expensive financing options without societal and environmental safeguards, due to a wish to avoid lengthy, complex, uncertain and distant approval processes within international multilateral institutions. Examples of Latin American borrowers spurning the IDB for China EximBank were cited in these discussions. It has been seen to that the emergence of PPP as the hegemonic financing solution of international institutional capital, similarly disempowers the EMDE borrower.

Towards a locally specific solution

There was discussion of the local in two contexts. Firstly, methodologies for making smaller scale local assets suitable for attracting non state investment. Secondly, it considered local sources of funding either as sole funders or in partnership with global MDB or private institutional capital.

The IDB and ADB see the need to create dynamic sector (or sub-sector) clusters to achieve scale and minimise transaction costs. These are particularly necessary in areas of small population, low per capita income, remoteness from investors, and where there is a lack of domestic supporting industries. A case study discussed was recent private sector participation in China; for tap water treatment, wastewater treatment, and locally specific dam projects. The ADB took a portfolio approach for these small rural wastewater projects, since they were too small to do on a stand-alone basis. Aggregation allowed the ADB to become involved as an enabling partner but critically they kept multiple local project vehicles in the overall structure. These small projects within the overall framework were then co-invested by local finance institutions and banks.

The development of endogenous financing solutions is now typically focused around local currency bond markets and increased pension fund allocations for infrastructure. A significant issue remains the often high domestic interest rates within EMDEs, the fact that local lenders are unused to long tenor and to financing construction risk, and the lack of funding and deal liquidity within nation state jurisdictions; all of these issues currently being examined by the G20.

Where there are significant sources of domestic capital in EMDEs such as Namibia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore they remain largely invested in government bonds rather than infrastructure. As the World Bank noted, this can only change when MDBs, institutional capital and national governments seek to jointly develop regulatory frameworks, understanding of infrastructure as an asset class, pension fund reform, and a clear prioritization of well prepared projects oriented to local needs. These measures need to move in lock-step, and successful examples such as Chile’s endogenous pension funds’ involvement in the national road building program were cited as worthy of replication.

It is in these areas that today’s MDBs and international development organisations have a critical role in developing and sharing best practice. Certainly there was a strong feeling that a robust and transparent MDB and international community has a role to play to ensure locally appropriate solutions are not subsumed in the deployment of global private institutional capital as countries rush to upscale their infrastructure.

Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology #ibuild @nclceser #isie2015 #industrialecology

By Oliver Heidrich

The International Society of Industrial Ecology’s (ISIE) series of biennial conferences was held between the 7th to the 10th of July 2015 at the University of Surrey. The conference was attended by more than 500 delegates that have an interest and more importantly that have and still shape significantly the discipline of Industrial Ecology. Chaired by Emeritus Professor of Environmental Technology Roland Clift and run effectively and smoothly across various locations, buildings and rooms by an army of helpers, all of which had great knowledge about the subject areas of the conference.

After more than 25 years the conference provided an excellent opportunity to take stock and plan for the future. Questions and answers how to design more sustainable industrial and urban systems, what progress has been made towards reducing resource use and what are the prospects for more resilient, material-efficient economies were discussed at the conference. Delegates were also treated to an electronic copy as part of the conference proceedings with the pre-release of the Book edited by Roland Clift and Angela Druckmann and published by Springer that carries the same title as the conference strap line: “Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology”. The book is intended as a useful resource for students, researchers and practitioners and the plenary speakers and panellists at the conference were drawn from the contributors to this book.

Alongside the conference presentation were two afternoons dedicated to more than 200 poster presentations, of which more than half were student posters. Students were encouraged to enter into a Poster competition, which was judges by a panel will consist of 6-7 experts and veterans from the various fields of industrial ecology. Conference delegates could also vote for their favourite poster (attendee’s choice winners). These competitions wanted to draw the attention to the amazing work done by ISIE students, promote high quality, communicative posters and to provide recognition to outstanding student research. The judges selected the winner based on standardized criteria considering organisation, research value and structure, charts and images, accuracy, originality, knowledge and presentation by the students.

Following tough competition from excellent students from across the world we are very pleased to say that our PhD student Miss Napaporn Tangtinthai received the 1st place winner certificate from the judges. She presented her comparative study on material flows, financing and taxation of concrete use in the housing sectors of Great Britain and Thailand. Napaporn, who is supervised by Professor David Manning and Dr. Oliver Heidrich, proposed a reporting method for construction materials and wastes like cement and concrete for Thai policy decision-making and other countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Professor Chris Kennedy, President of the International Society for Industrial Ecology, presented the certificate (see picture) and prizes which included US$250 prize money and a free one-year student membership in ISIE.

The Conference Dinner was held at Epsom Racecourse which gave delegates the chance to chat informally and to provide a homage at one of its most prominent delegates and founder of Industrial Ecology- Professor Tom Graedel from Yale University. He indeed was and still is an “essential element of Industrial Ecology” and the “cradle” of industrial Ecology. The picture below that suggested in humours way the ultimate accolade would be to have a chemical element named Teg Graedelium (see picture)! Native English speaking attendees may be reminded of their school days when everybody joint, the best they could, into Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements” song of the chemical periodic table. The journey back to the University gave people time to reflect of the conference so far and discuss future plans of Industrial Ecology and what to do in the remaining days in Surrey. All in all the conference was great success and people already made plans for the next ISIE conference which will be held in 2017 in Chicago.

NapapornMiss Napaporn Tangtinthai receiving the 1st place winner award presented by Chris Kennedy


Humours accolade for Tom Graedel and the element that still needs discovery (and a name!)

Critique of Current Infrastructure Performance Indicators #ibuild @nclceser


ICIF and iBUILD are currently working with Infrastructure UK to examine the use of Performance Indicators for Infrastructure. As an output from the first phase of this research, an interim report ‘A Critique of Current Infrastructure Performance Indicators: Towards Best Practice’ of the first stages is now available on the ICIF ( and iBUILD websites (



Report from the Association of American Geographers Conference #iBUILD #AAG

Chicago, 21st to 25th April, 2015  

Graham Thrower, Doctoral Researcher, CURDS/ GPS, Newcastle University


The slow, rumbling journey on the Blue Line from O’Hare Airport into the heart of Chicago leaves you in no doubt as to the age of the rolling stock. Likewise a leisurely walk under the L (the Elevated rapid transit system) of Chicago’s Loop reveals a railway infrastructure from the late 1800s (the Green Line still uses tracks from 1893), and one that appears to be visibly corroding in parts. Factor in the pot-holed city roads, crumbling sidewalks and deteriorating bridges; and you have to ask ‘how did it come to this’?

Chicago is one of America’s venerable old cities; a city of bold engineering solutions that saw the birth of the skyscraper and the reversal of a river’s flow to solve a wastewater problem. Infrastructure has always been at the heart of Chicago’s being.

What better venue then for the AAG 2015 Geographies of infrastructure Finance and Governance ‘all dayer’ curated by Andy Pike and Peter O’Brien of CURDS, and our iBUILD compatriot Phil O’Neill of the University of Western Sydney.

First up was Phil O’Neill and Infrastructure’s stubborn spatiality, arguing the case that the rise of perpetual funds (thereby reducing the need for capital exit events), the increasing presence of former private sector actors within regulatory and policy institutions, and the emergence of globally pervasive forms of infrastructure financing such as PPPs, are all indicative of capitalism’s well documented dislike for competition.

In a sense this theme was taken up later by Heather Whiteside in her paper Constructing infrastructure markets: private finance for public austerity. The thrust of her research was a forensic examination of the taxonomy of the spread of PPPs. Almost defining the increasingly hegemonic spread of PPPs as one might a virus, her thesis was that it is a market that has been intentionally and painstakingly constructed by large scale private interests (notably in finance and construction) and compliant national and international organisations. The recent injection of additional impetus that accounts for the huge growth of infrastructure as an asset class has come from a growing infrastructure investment deficit and the pressures of enduring austerity rendering it ever more tempting for governments to ‘rent the money’ (Boardman and Vining, 2011: 35).

As Whiteside states, however renting the money may solve an upfront financing issue but does not address the knottier problem of how infrastructure investment gets funded. She cites Chicago’s recent experience in this regard: the $1.83bn Skyway Toll Road, the $563m lease of downtown parking garages, and the now infamous $1.15bn lease on public parking meters. This latter example was the focus of Stephanie Farmer’s paper Having it both ways: Planning and financing the high tech city in Chicago. As she pointed out, not only do transactions like this represent a significant undervalue to the taxpayer; there is also a considerable impact on a city’s ability to govern itself, and on future policy and planning flexibility. As we had separately observed at the recent iBUILD Manifesto (Are you being served?, 2015) launch in London in late March; such transactions not only fix the technical solution to any given infrastructure issue for the concession lifetime, they also essentially fix the business model. In the case of Chicago’s parking meters this business model turns out to be much to the liking of the private investors; a constituency Farmer observes with echoes of O’Neill, that is increasingly embedded in city and state-wide planning and budgeting. A later paper by Pryke, Allen and O’Neill Finance–Topologies and Infrastructure Assets: Disassembling and reassembling the investment qualities of a ‘desal’ plant (2015) makes a similar point about corporate influence, observing the growing strategic importance of water in drought challenged environments.

A measure of balance regarding the potential benefits of PPP was provided by first, Brittany Montgomery with her paper Critical Infrastructure Project continuity: survivors in the volatile Mexican context, and then Michael Klein with PPPs in infrastructure – promise and hype. Klein first of all sought to explode the myth that there is either a pure public or private solution to infrastructure, arguing reasonably that all infrastructure projects involve a measure of both. In this sense he was picking up on O’Neill’s desire to see an end to the ‘political cul-de-sac of the public-private binary’. An important insight in Klein’s paper, however, lay in the underlying role that can be played by PPP. He asserts that where a state or national government has little money, the act of concluding a PPP for a project actually confers credibility on that project and, by implication, the sponsor. Where, however, governments have the financial means, a PPP may still be an optimal solution to cut through administrative inefficiencies and procurement creep. In such instances, Klein asserts, ‘PPPs are a mechanism to deal with failure, here government failure’. Montgomery also cited government failure but in a Mexican context. She addressed the time horizons of infrastructure projects and the vulnerabilities of lead times exceeding the lives of government sponsors. In her paper she examines the profile of open infrastructure projects that successfully transitioned across government timelines. Her findings disclose the importance of political patronage in the context of the Mexican economy, but interestingly she concludes that there is some evidence (albeit from a small data-set) for the private financing aspect of a PPP to act as an insulating factor protecting projects from political short-termism.

It is important to note that these two papers were primarily concerned with developing economies or the Global South. Giles Mohan also noted the relative under-representation of that hemisphere in the wider debate in his paper The politics of Chinese funded infrastructure projects in Africa. Here we were confronted with a form of alliance capitalism or economic diplomacy (Haberly, 2011) wherein Chinese corporates are following the national government’s ‘go out’ strategy backed by highly preferential state financing solutions, to secure reserves of critical natural resources and to build assets in strategic industries. These transactions exploit a ‘South-South’ narrative in which the Chinese leadership have successfully exploited the Marxist geopolitics of parts of Africa to create an anti-Western discourse as these states liberalise their markets.

Bringing the theme of new ways of looking at infrastructure markets much closer to home, Stephen Hall of Leeds University and iBUILD made a compelling case for a fundamental re-engineering of local energy delivery networks utilising a localised scalar solution to capture values traditionally absent from the large scale incumbent grid model; issues such as energy poverty, energy efficiency, social equity, environmental protection, and renewable commitments. He sees strong ties between empowered local government actors, aligned local finance providers (he cites Sparkassen and the Volksbanken in the German example) as being capable of ‘providing positive non-economic outcomes’ in terms of local energy provision.

And with these thoughts on governance and empowered local policy actors, we come back to the day’s curators Andy Pike and Peter O’Brien, and their paper Deal or no deal? Governing infrastructure funding in the UK city deals. Building on the insights of Harvey’s urban entrepreneurialism redux (The urban experience, 1989) Pike and O’Brien examined deal-making as public policy and the extreme discrepancies across the UK urban landscape of this method of ‘centrally prescribed inter-urban competition’. Kevin Ward also picked up on the theme of urban competition in his paper On the waterfront: experimentation, innovation and speculation in the financing of urban infrastructure. Also referring to Harvey’s prescient understanding of a shift to a more entrepreneurial state, Ward looked at five tendencies in the redesign of the UK’s welfare state: its uneven design and delivery; decentralization and devolution; centrally prescribed inter-urban competition (eg city deals); trans national searching for new financial and funding models; and the financialisation of public infrastructure. Ward’s comments were in the context of largely abandoned attempts to re-imagine Leith’s waterfront area via an intended usage of TIF.

The question that he poses, however, is one that was a recurring theme not only of the day, but of all the infrastructure sessions that I attended at AAG 2015. The central question is the extent to which the public purse receives value from its interaction with globally sourced private capital. The ability of the liberalised marketplace to provide risk transfer, private sector efficiencies and, critically, positive societal outcomes, in return for its enhanced yield seems to be a case that is still struggling to be made. This very point was made by Jonas and Goetz in their paper Public-Private finance and the territorial politics of extra collective provision: the case of regional rail transit in Denver, CO and again by Allan Cochrane’s Who needs infrastructure? Building suburban spaces on the edge of the London city region?, and Laura Deruytter’s Financialising Brussels Airport: the shifting ownership of infrastructure and implications for the provision and control of infrastructure services. The debate therefore goes on. It will be interesting to see where we have all got to in our respective thinking on this topic by the time of next year’s AAG. In the meantime I have a very old train to catch…

Details of 2016 AAG Conference

March 29 – April 2, 2016 – San Francisco

Rebuilding America’s infrastructure #ibuild


“What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further…” (President ‘Elect’ Barack Obama, January 2009).

Last month, Chicago was the setting for the Association of American Geographies (AAG) Annual Meeting. CURDS organised a number of sessions at the Annual meeting, where 18 international academic experts presented a range of papers that examined the funding, financing and governance of national and urban infrastructure. The presentations provided an important contribution towards studies that CURDS has been leading within the EPSRC and ESRC-funded iBUILD infrastructure research project <>.

This week (11-15 May 2015) is ‘Infrastructure Week’ in the United States, where thousands of stakeholders will state the case for investing in and modernising America’s critical infrastructure assets and systems, and reemphasise the essential role that infrastructure plays in supporting economic recovery and growth. The event is expected to see politicians, business, unions, academics and other advocates deliver a firm message to Congress that America needs to find immediate solutions to future infrastructure investment. It is estimated that the U.S. must spend at least $150 billion more per annum on its infrastructure up to 2020  <>.

When visiting the U.S. it is impossible not to be struck immediately by the infrastructure crisis facing the country, whether this relates to airports, ports, heavy or light rail/metro transportation, road surfaces and bridges. Major cities, such as Chicago, are teaming with high-rise skyscrapers and condominiums but bound together precariously by visibly ageing and deteriorating physical infrastructure.

There is a growing disconnect between the historic low cost of long-term finance and new investment in infrastructure, which currently stands at its lowest level in the U.S. since 1950. The problem of legislative ‘grid-lock’ in Washington D.C., with a Democratic president and Republican-majority senate and congress increasingly at odds with each other has fuelled a situation where politicians at all levels of government are extremely reluctant to raise new revenues by increasing taxes and user fees to fund infrastructure improvements.

How and where choices are made about American infrastructure are complex and decisions are determined by funding sources, regulatory frameworks, geographies and politics. The federal gas tax, for example, which funds the US federal highway trust fund, and the inter-state road network, was last raised in 1993. Consequently, the index link was broken and the cost of maintenance and renewal of major roads in the U.S. now outstrips available revenues. The fund faces insolvency in the next few weeks unless Congress agrees new resources. Amidst the political impasse, President Obama has tasked a high-level group with presenting new proposals on how the private sector could increase its financial contribution to US national and local infrastructure. Whilst this is a laudable proposal, the brutal fact remains that politicians are skirting around the fundamental question of how infrastructure should ultimately be paid for; the answer to which lies in either taxation or user fees. The upfront financing of infrastructure is more straightforward in that private capital can be moulded and deployed in different ways through a variety of investment models. There are, however, grounds for optimism. In Ohio, the state held a ballot (i.e. referendum) in 2014, which resulted in voters approving tax increases to fund new infrastructure improvements in roads and bridges, which will be financed initially through a $1.85 billion 10-year bond issuance. Other states and local governments are now adopting similar measures.

Before assuming office, President Obama said that decision-makers in the United States should be honest with the electorate about the difficult choices facing the country. The U.S. needs to identify and agree ways of increasing investment and improving the efficiency of infrastructure, whilst accepting that there is no ‘free lunch’. It is a difficult, yet simple, message facing governments in America and across the globe, whether they choose to admit it publicly or not.

Peter O’Brien, May 2015


iBUILD PhD Studentships Available #ibuild #ceser


The iBUILD team at Newcastle University are pleased to announce two funded PhD studentships for 2015. Two of the following projects will be funded; selected based upon the candidates who apply:

iBUILD: Evaluation and funding of green infrastructure in urban areas: reference code CI-729

Green infrastructure (GI), nature used as an infrastructure system, has been receiving increased interest and application in recent years, this in part is due to drivers such as climate change and urbanisation. There are multiple benefits associated with GI ranging from providing solutions to stormwater management, regulating urban heat and improving air quality, to aesthetic and well-being outcomes. This PhD will explore interdependencies associated with GI in an urban context, methods for valuing GI and how new or existing business models need to emerge to fund and finance GI.

This study would consider:

  • Understanding and valuing of GI at different scales; value could include environmental, economic, social, ecological, cultural definitions; scale could be defined in a range of ways e.g. physical, benefit, governance and management.
  • Current configuration, connectivity, and benefits of GI in an urban area.
  • Apply and review a range of evaluation tools to the case study area.
  • Interdependencies between GI and ‘grey’ infrastructures.
  • Future demands on or for GI, identifying obstacles or limitations.
  • Application of business models to fund GI provision.

Supervisors: Dr Claire Walsh (CEG); Dr Guy Garrod (AFRD); Professor. Richard Dawson (CEG)

Person Specification and Eligibility Criteria: You must have, or expect to achieve, a minimum of an upper-second class or equivalent in a science, engineering, geography or quantitative social science discipline. Candidates with experience of, or keen ambition to work in a multi-disciplinary environment would be viewed favourably. Candidates need to demonstrate good written and verbal communication skills, experience or willingness to learn applying existing models, and analysing data using GIS. Candidates need to meet EPSRC eligibility criteria for EPSRC DTA awards.

iBUILD: Innovative business models from smart infrastructure systems: reference code CI-730

Smart infrastructure responds intelligently to environmental changes, different users or the needs of other interdependent infrastructure systems.  These systems collect usage and performance data and use this (automatically, or with human intervention) to ensure the infrastructure achieves the desired performance.

However, in doing so smart infrastructure is opening up opportunities for disrupting traditional ways of delivering infrastructure services and providing new mechanisms for capturing the social and economic value from these services.

This project, which will run alongside the iBUILD Infrastructure business models centre ( explore opportunities for using smart technologies to develop alternative business models for urban infrastructure that might improve the delivery of key services such as heat, water, mobility, sanitation,  and communication.  This interdisciplinary PhD will explore a range of issues including the engineering, funding, finance and governance issues of smart infrastructure business models.

Supervisors: Prof. Richard Dawson (CEG); Prof. Phil Blythe (CEG); Prof. Andy Pike (CURDS); Prof. Stephanie Glendinning (CEG)

Person Specification and Eligibility Criteria: You must have, or expect to achieve, a minimum of an upper-second class or equivalent in a science, engineering, geography or quantitative social science discipline. Candidates with experience of, or keen ambition to work in a multi-disciplinary environment would be viewed favourably. Candidates need to demonstrate very good written and verbal communications skills and an ability to assimilate information from a variety of sources. Candidates need to meet EPSRC eligibility criteria for EPSRC DTA awards.

iBUILD: Valuing Infrastructure Resilience: reference code CI-731

Concepts such as adaptable and resilience are often considered for infrastructure to aspire to.  Ultimately though, these must be translated into action on the ground that is financed and maintained.  Current business models often fail to appropriately “value” the importance of resilience in delivering indirect economic and non-economic benefits.

The project aim would be to formulate ideas for the development of new business models for funding resilient infrastructure through understanding the value of resilience in its broadest context.  The research would explore the following:

  • Definitions of resilience drawn from a range disciplines (e.g ecological, economic, engineering, social)
  • Application to of these resilience concepts to infrastructure to develop an integrated and holistic resilience framework
  • Appraisal of different intervention options for improving resilience using this framework
  • Use of different value measures to appraise the different interventions
  • Appraisal of the interventions in terms of cost, benefit, value and resilience change, understanding the tensions between different targets and scales
  • Draw out potential new business models for improving resilience based on the above

Supervisors: Prof. Stephanie Glendinning (CEG); Dr Jane Gibbon (NUBS); Dr Sean Wilkinson (CEG); Prof. Richard Dawson (CEG); Dr Guy Garrod (AFRD)

Person Specification and Eligibility Criteria: You must have, or expect to achieve, a minimum of an upper-second class or equivalent in a science, engineering, geography or quantitative social science discipline. Candidates with experience of, or keen ambition to work in a multi-disciplinary environment would be viewed favourably. Candidates need to demonstrate very good written and verbal communications skills and an ability to assimilate information from a variety of sources. Candidates need to meet EPSRC eligibility criteria for EPSRC DTA awards.


Depending on how you meet the EPSRC’s eligibility criteria (, you may be entitled to a full or partial award. A full award covers tuition fees at the UK/EU rate and an annual stipend of £13,863. A partial award covers fees at the UK/EU rate only.


3 years

Start date

September 2015


EPSRC DTA, in collaboration with the iBUILD (Infrastructure BUsiness models, valuation and Innovation for Local Delivery) Centre (

How to Apply
All applicants should complete the University’s postgraduate application form.  Only mandatory fields need to be completed. However, you will need to include the following information:
Insert the programme code 8040F in the programme of study section. Select PhD School of Civil Engineering and Geoscience-Civil Engineering (Water) as the programme of study.  Insert the studentship code as stated above in the studentship/partnership reference field.

Attach a covering letter and CV.  The covering letter must state the title of the studentship and quote reference code as stated above.

Closing Date for Applications 

31st March 2015

Further Information
For further details, please contact:
iBUILD Director:

iBUILD Manager: