Report on the International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure #ibuild #ceser

Report on the International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure

6-9th November 2014

Long Beach, California, USA

By Josey Wardle (PhD student, TORG, Newcastle University)


The attended the first International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI) 2014[1] organised by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), where I presented my paper entitled “The provision of public recharging infrastructure for Electric Vehicles in North East England – is there life after subsidies?”[2].  My presentation was both well attended and well received, and led to subsequent discussions about how the region has made these achievements to date and how we might allocate value to the social and environmental benefits of this provision in the future.

This was the first international conference on sustainability to be organised by the ASCR. The 3 day conference provided a platform for project owners, practitioners, researchers and decision makers from the US, Canada, Europe and China to learn about and discuss a diverse range of sustainable infrastructure projects from around the world.  It was attended by over 200 people across a mixture of plenary sessions, workshops, posters and presentation sessions. Topics included climate change, water resources, transportation, eco-cities, solar power, adaptation, extreme hazards, education, ethics, developing world issues and infrastructure resiliency.  The conference also included an interesting tour of the Port of Long Beach, the second busiest port in the USA, which through its “Green Port Policy” created in 2005 has become a landmark for the practical adoption of sustainable infrastructure projects. The conference focussed heavily on the search for and development of appropriate tools, standards and methodologies needed for future success in sustainable infrastructure deployment.  Applications of the Envision™[3] rating system were presented in many different infrastructure contexts.


Conference Content

The importance of infrastructure to the global economy was stressed by the opening day session speakers from the World Bank, US state officials, Chinese and Canadian bodies.  James Close of The World Bank stated that “investing in sustainable infrastructure is key to sustainable growth”, and explained the role of the World Bank’s new Global Infrastructure Facility[4] to encourage financing for low and middle income countries.  He stressed that the infrastructure developments made in the next 10-20 years are likely to determine whether our children and grandchildren can lead a good quality of life. The role of carbon pricing policies was discussed as part of wider economic, fiscal and financial measures, through which high carbon pollutants may be made uncompetitive.  James believes that scenario approaches will be required to value sustainable infrastructure developments for the future.  He called on the public sector to actively engage in sustainable infrastructure development projects, and to operate a genuine risk sharing approach in the demonstration of green technologies which will drive the way forward and lead to greater private sector engagement in the future.  Governments must take the policy level risks and leave the constructors to manage the practical risks of delivery.

The needs of the massive and fast growing urban population in China were also highlighted, leading to unprecedented infrastructure requirements and their associated environmental challenges which will have global implications if sustainable principles are not adhered to.

Joanne Mahoney of Onondaga County, New York, spoke passionately about their “Save the Rain”[5] green infrastructure strategy, a comprehensive storm-water management plan reducing pollution to Onondaga Lake and its tributaries.

Reg Andres of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers spoke about Canada’s challenges to balance environmental, economic and social sustainability in a country whose GDP is heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry.  This has led to the development of the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card which is now driving the development of a Sustainability Rating System, similar to the US EnvisionTM system (see below for a description of this system). Reg stressed that “Respect, Recognition and Responsibility” are three critical aspects of Sustainability and that our civil engineers must therefore recognise and respect Social Value in all of its diverse forms in order to deliver the best solutions.  This was explained by reference to practical examples of infrastructure projects delivered for the indigenous populations in Canada.  Reg also stressed the role of civil engineers in promoting the importance of social value to future generations through education and the need to empower them to act accordingly.

The Port of Long Beach launched its Green Port Policy in 2005[6]. Fundamental aspects of this include; California’s first cable-stayed vehicular bridge, the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement project, and the US’s first electrified and fully automated  container yard, the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project, currently under construction.  As part of its green truck action plan all trucking companies working within the port must achieve the highest standards for clean emissions, and platooning techniques are also in active use.  The port has also engaged with the local community awarding over $18 million in grants for community projects over the last 5 years, and is developing the employees of the future with internships and educational programmes. In total $4 billion improvement programmes are being delivered which aim to double the productivity and halve the emissions of this busy port area.

The importance of considering the interdependencies between different types of infrastructure ran throughout the presentations, as did the continuing uncertainties of climate science and the difficulties this presents to engineers in creating models to predict future activity and inform actions.  The need to consult with the local population was stressed throughout as a key element of the analysis and decision making process.

The role of the civil engineer was discussed throughout the conference, concluding that we serve both the population and the planet and that we therefore need to provide leadership to support society for the future.  It was generally agreed that the civil engineer is responsible for doing things which make people’s lives better, and that this should therefore include not just the traditional concerns of health and safety but also within the category of welfare we must provide solutions which will sustain quality of life going forward.

The final day included a detailed session on the role of education in embedding sustainability into future generations.  There was a call for a change in traditional engineering education to include a broader range of skills that encompass all the aspects and interdependencies of sustainability, incorporating flexibility for the management of increasing complexity and the ability to continuously adapt to emerging changes in the total value chain pipeline. Appropriate communicate was highlighted as key to successful infrastructure development, understanding how best to engage with relevant and wide ranging stakeholder groups is critical to successful deployment. Therefore an understanding of elements such as sociology, ecology and economics is also required by future engineers.


The EnvisionTM tool

Many of the workshop presentations and posters on display during the conference described the use of the Envision™[3] system in the delivery of their projects.

EnvisionTM was developed in joint collaboration between the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) [7] and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure[8] at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The ISI is a not-for-profit education and research organization, dedicated to developing and maintaining a civil infrastructure rating system.  ISI was founded by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the American Public Works Association (APWA), and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).   Each of ISI’s founding organizations was developing a sustainable infrastructure program and saw the need for a standardized framework for classification of sustainability practices.  The organizations decided to work together to form ISI to produce and administer a sustainable infrastructure rating system.   ISI membership is complementary to full time academics and students.

Envision™ provides a holistic framework for evaluating and rating the community, environmental and economic benefits of all types and sizes of infrastructure projects. It evaluates, grades, and gives recognition to infrastructure projects that use transformational, collaborative approaches to assess the sustainability indicators over the course of the project’s life cycle.

The Envision™ rating system is a project assessment and guidance tool for sustainable infrastructure design. It is an objective framework of criteria and performance achievements that helps users identify ways in which sustainable approaches can be used to plan, design, construct, and operate infrastructure projects.   The goal is to improve the sustainable performance of infrastructure projects in terms of the technical performance and also from social, environmental, and economic perspectives.

Envision™ has 60 sustainability criteria, called credits, divided into five sections: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk.  Each credit is described in a 2-page write-up that includes the intent, metric, levels of achievement, description, an explanation of how to advance to a higher achievement level, evaluation criteria and documentation, sources, and related credits.

There are two main Envision™ tools;

  • The EnvisionTM Checklist – This is an educational tool that helps users become familiar with the sustainability aspects of infrastructure project design. It can be used as a stand-alone assessment to quickly compare project alternatives or to prepare for a more detailed assessment. This is structured as a series of Yes/No questions based on the Envision™ rating system. It is organized into five categories and fourteen subcategories. Every infrastructure project has an important impact on all five Envision™ categories.
  • Envision™ sustainable infrastructure Rating System – allowing a fully detailed assessment to be completed. May enable projects to become eligible for an Envision™ award. Used by the project team to self-assess the project, or to gain a third-party objective review of the project’s sustainability.

I intend to review the elements of this tool to assess if they may be suitable for use in developing a social and environmental business model for the continuing provision of public EV recharging infrastructure.


2016 ASCE International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure

The next conference will be held in Beijing, China in 2016 (date yet to be released).  The Chinese Academy of Engineers (CAE), the Tsinghua University and the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES) will organise this, with support from the Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences (RCEES, CAS).

The 2014 organizing committee indicated that further examples of the UK’s approach to sustainable infrastructure would be very welcome at this conference.



[1]          ASCE. (2014, 05/12/2014). International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure 2014 Available:

[2]          J. Wardle, Y. Huebner, P. T. Blythe, and J. Gibbon, “The provision of public recharging infrastructure for Electric Vehicles in North East England – is there life after subsidies?,” presented at the ASCE International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure, Long Beach, California, USA, 2014.

[3]          Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. (05/12/2014). Envision™ Sustainable Infrastructure Rating System. Available:

[4]          The World Bank. (2014, 05/12/2014). Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF).

[5]          Joanne M. Mahoney County Executive Onondaga County. (05/12/2014). Save the Rain. Available:

[6]          Port of Long Beach California. (05/12/2014). Green Port Policy. Available:

[7]          Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. (05/12/2014). Available:

[8]          Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. (12/12/2014). Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure Available:



Deal or no deal? Where next for decentralisation in England…#iBUILD

Andy Pike

Ten years after the rejection of the elected regional assembly on offer to the North East region of England and in the wake of the Scottish referendum result, the governance of England is once more in flux. Elements of an emerging consensus are becoming clearer. The UK and especially England’s governance is overly centralised especially when considered in international context. Whitehall doesn’t know best and can’t run England on a centralised, top-down and ‘command and control’ model. The decentralisation ‘genie is out of the bottle’, the ‘door is open’ and irreversible change has been set in train that can’t easily be ignored by government of whichever stripe. Continued austerity means local government can expect less money from the centre in future beyond the current revenue squeeze. Local government needs to have more and new ways of raising their own money and enhanced flexibilities and freedom in using it. Local government has wide responsibilities but narrow, multiple and fragmented funding sources most of which are centrally determined. More deals are on offer and directly elected and city-regional ‘metro’ mayors and Combined Authorities are the centre’s preferred governance arrangements with which to negotiate and decentralise.


So far, so decentralised. Thorny questions remain, however, as the limitations of the piecemeal, ad hoc and – as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described it at the recent Northern Futures Summit – “higgledy piggledy” decentralisation journey unfold. The latest instalment of which is a new round of bespoke centre-local deals. Our current work as part of the EPSRC/ESRC-funded iBUILD research centre <> has been reviewing the 29 – and counting – City Deals emerging since 2010. Some positives are evident in providing some (albeit modest) enhancement of decentralisation and encouragement of city-regional strategy-making, prioritisation, innovation, co-operation, joint working and some (conditional) resource. Less welcome are the uneven allocations of resources between and within city-regions, accentuated when local fiscal capacity is tied to uneven levels of local prosperity and tax bases of differing strengths, the lack of information for local actors on what is on and off the table in cutting deals with Whitehall, and the somewhat pragmatic and even selfish urbanism it is promoting as city-regions are compelled to grab what’s on offer ahead of and/or instead of others irrespective of needs. The politics – who gets what, where, when and how (to supplement Harold Lasswell’s classic definition) – seems reliant upon close and regular relations with Ministers and civil servants at the centre and sometimes the high coalition politics of the Quad. How complex and (il)legible it all looks from the outside to those in the investment community attracted to the UK but anxious about political risk is also a concern. Interests at the national centre recognise this uneven and mixed picture. But they counter that decentralisation and localism sets local areas free to act because there is no centralised blueprint cooked up in Whitehall. Local partners are able to develop and make their own propositions to government. A step-wise approach is seen as preferable to the kind of big bang or ‘all at once’ solutions that would encounter stubborn resistance from Whitehall departments. Staged and – what Jim O’Neill’s RSA City Growth Commission <> – called “fastest first” approaches are promoted whereby those most ready, willing and able to receive the decentralisation from the centre are first in line for the powers and resources.


Yet, CURDS’ international review for CLG <> highlights the different shapes and sizes of decentralisation in terms of powers and money. Decentralisation is not an end in itself. A central question is asking what any decentralised powers are able to achieve. If the desired outcome is sustainable prosperity for people and places then the decentralisation needs to be designed to deliver it. Infamously, decentralisation is a process not an event. Many countries have embarked on the process without a clear sense of the end point. But those successfully proceeding down that path do at least have some kind of vision or – even incomplete – road map. In England, this could provide a sense of direction and speed of travel, reduce uncertainty, lessen the unpredictable and often short-term demands for local partners to articulate their propositions, minimise perpetual reorganisation, and provide a stronger way of changing the structures and cultures of centralisation ingrained in the English political economy. But it seems that only in the UK’s overly centralised governance of England would such a patchy, conditional and centrally orchestrated decentralisation process unfold. Muddling through in the traditional way may soon reach the structural limits of this kind of decentralisation.

Floating cycleway plan for London #ibuild

Miles Tight comments on the proposed floating cycleway which is planned to stretch for around seven miles from Battersea, west of the city centre, to Canary Wharf, the financial district to the east of the city centre. In his piece in the conversation, Miles debates the purpose of and demand for the route, the proposed cost and value of the investment.

What would encourage you to walk and cycle more? #ibuild

Fiona Raje, University of Birmingham

I recently went on a study tour to Ireland where I heard about and saw various initiatives and developments aimed at more sustainable futures. One of the site visits was to the new Grangegorman campus of Dublin Institute of Technology which has been developed as a space for education, health and community. It opens up an area of the north west corner of Dublin city which had previously been walled-off from public view, housing a psychiatric hospital, and is designed with cycling and walking, as well as public transport, being primary modes of access (e.g. there a hundreds of bike racks and only 14 parking spaces on the campus). Equally important to the way the site has been developed is the permeability that has been built in for local residents, enabling access both to and through the campus. The location of a school and health facilities for the wider community on the site underlines that such accessibility is positively encouraged through infrastructure design.

With the campus only just welcoming its first students, it is not yet possible to determine how the new cycling and walking infrastructure may impact on the local community, students, staff and visitors. However, the findings of recent research suggest that net benefits from such infrastructure provision should start to be realized in a couple of years. Goodman et al (2014) found that new, high-quality, traffic-free cycling and walking routes in local communities encouraged more people to make trips on foot or by bike, particularly amongst those who lived within 1km of the new infrastructure. They noted that it was at 2-year follow up that these changes became evident.

This is some of the first evidence to demonstrate that a general assumption many of us have made, that good quality walking and cycling infrastructure  will result in increased use of these modes, is indeed true. It will be interesting to return to Grangegorman in 2016 to see how the modal share has evolved.

At University of Birmingham, as we work on an iBUILD case study of the value of walking and cycling infrastructure in urban areas, we will be exploring examples of changes in infrastructure and research findings such as those mentioned above to help unpick the various dimensions of value attained from such provision. The overall objective of the case study is to suggest ways in which infrastructure for these two modes may be provided in new ways (such as through social enterprise) that increase: value generation, in general, arising from such projects; value capture for investors, in particular, and reduce delivery costs, leading to improved value/cost ratios and a resulting greater willingness to undertake such schemes. Within this context, the work looks at local walking and cycling, taking account of transport and travel’s direct relationship to facilitating connectivity to wider areas from local surroundings. This work aligns closely with the iBUILD agenda on maximising a wide range of values from walking and cycling infrastructure.

Further information about the planning at Grangegorman can be seen at

Goodman, A., Sahlqvist, S. and Ogilvie, D. (2014) ‘New walking and cycling routes and increased physical activity: one- and 2-year findings from the UK iConnect study’, American Journal of Public Health, 104(9), pp. e38-e46


The Value of Infrastructure & City Growth #ibuild @nclceser @CURDSNewcastle @CityGrowthCom

Peter O’Brien, iBUILD Researcher, 22 July 2014

Last Wednesday, I attended the launch, in London, of the RSA City Growth Commission Report Connected Cities: The Link to Growth, the latest publication by the Commission that is investigating the growth potential of UK cities, chaired by the former Goldman Sachs Chief Economist, Jim O’Neill. The report, which cites the activity of iBUILD, claims that “high quality infrastructure is a critical driver of productivity and growth”. Few would disagree with this statement, although economic geographers would also suggest that infrastructure is not the sole determinant of productive local and regional economies, as the OECD affirmed in its 2012 study, Growing all Regions. Rather, infrastructure is one component of successful development strategies, alongside human capital, innovation, enterprise and effective institutional governance. However, policy-makers and researchers are understandably seeking to acquire greater knowledge and understanding of how and where infrastructure drives particular forms of growth and development, and how public and private infrastructure investment decisions can be better informed by technical appraisal and assessment.

The Growth Commission rejects what it calls the current “inefficient, centralised model” of local and regional infrastructure investment and governance, and outlines five recommendations for change:

  1. The development of a stronger, urban-focused Infrastructure UK.
  2. The creation of a fairer and more flexible funding system based on fiscal devolution to cities and city regions.
  3. The introduction of a flexible and innovative planning system.
  4. Better appraisal techniques that reflect more accurately the costs and benefits of infrastructure investment.
  5. Strengthening of city governance and local government capacity.

The Commission also identifies a critical issue that was flagged up in a previous CURDS blog on Fiscal Devolution, which concerns how UK national accounting frameworks should measure and interpret certain forms of local growth as additional contributions to the national economy and not as displacement between local areas.

One of the Commission’s headline proposals is that, as a counterbalance to London and the South East, investment in transport infrastructure between northern cities should be prioritised, in an effort to create a large ‘alternative agglomeration’ in the north of England. This differs from the conclusions reached by other studies, such as the Eddington Transport Review in 2006 and the Manchester Independent Economic Review in 2009, both of which argued that transport investment within cities should be the immediate priority.


The Growth Commission’s work is a useful and timely contribution to the current discourse on cities and infrastructure. However, very little is said about the social and environmental value of infrastructure in shaping, making and re-making urban economies and places. Whilst the report is accurate in its assessment that the private financing of infrastructure in the UK has, in part, led to fragmented or splintered urban infrastructure networks, the Commission could have been more explicit in its critique of the current market failures in infrastructure planning and investment. The report, for instance, could have highlighted how cities outside of London require a consistent policy line from Central Government on urban transport management and governance if they are to assume greater responsibility for the planning, funding, financing, delivery and regulation of local transport infrastructure. For example, Whitehall views London’s bus regulatory and over-sight system as a success, but the Government is seemingly reluctant to show the same level of support for similar models being advocated in other urban areas in England.

The baton on cities and infrastructure ownership and control is picked up by the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) in a new report, City Energy: A new powerhouse for Britain. The report suggests that cities could play an important role in fixing what the think-tank calls the ‘broken market’ in the UK’s energy sector, which, as the Public Accounts Select Committee concludes, is demonstrated by the fact that consumers are paying (and are forecast to continue to pay) higher bills and therefore disproportionate contributions towards industry capital investment.

In the past, UK cities were responsible for building and maintaining infrastructure assets, reflecting what Adam Smith regarded as the third duty of government. Recently, cities, such as Munich (referenced in the ippr report), Melbourne and New York, have developed new forms of community and public urban renewable energy provision. In 2013, voters in Hamburg agreed to the city’s energy grids being brought back under public ownership, part of a broader trend that has seen 170 German municipalities, since 2007, buy back energy grids from private companies. The citizens of Boulder, Colorado, USA, have also agreed to move the city’s energy grid into municipal ownership despite strong opposition from the state’s largest utility company.

The Greater London Authority and members of the Core Cities Group are keen to enter into the energy supply market, and ippr believes that there are five business models that London and other UK cities should consider:

  1. Fully licensed supplier: a city sets up and runs an independent supplier, taking full responsibility for delivery and meeting licence conditions.
  2. Joint venture: a city works with one or more third parties to set up and run an independent supplier.
  3. Licence-lite: a city becomes a ‘junior supplier’ with responsibility for some aspects of delivery and meeting licence conditions, while a partner ‘senior supplier’ is responsible for the rest of the business.
  4. Partnership: a city works in partnership with an existing, licensed supplier and takes responsibility for some operational aspects of the supply business in its area.
  5. White label: a city licenses use of its brand to an existing supplier who uses it to market to customers in the local area.

On the vital question of funding and financing, ippr recommends that: cities work with the Green Investment Bank on low carbon energy investment; cities support the Local Government Association’s proposals to establish a collective Bonds Agency; the fiscal rules laid down by Treasury should be designed to ensure that debt for local authority capital expenditure does not count against legitimate targets to bring current spending back to balance in the medium term; and local authority pension funds should comply with the Principles for Responsible Investment.

The ippr analysis adds additional weight to the view that how we choose to define and measure the value of infrastructure can shape public, private and community involvement and participation in infrastructure planning and delivery. Although most UK infrastructure is privately-owned, there is an increasing international trend of private infrastructure assets, particular in the water industry and energy sector, returning to public ownership. The move to (re)municipalisation is driven, in part, by the failures of existing regulatory arrangements, and other factors, including:


  • Concerns about the funding of infrastructure in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.
  • A desire on the part of governments to achieve public service and community objectives.
  • A move to rebalance stakeholder and shareholder interests.
  • Notable private sector failures in infrastructure provision and delivery (particular in management and corporate governance).
  • A call for greater transparency and openness in procurement, investment and finance decisions and plans.
  • Greater regard for environmental and sustainability considerations.
  • Recognition that infrastructure is a broader societal and economic asset.
  • A move by cities to re-think the use of public realm and spaces within urban contexts.

Professor Dieter Helm, from the University of Oxford, claims that the issue now is not whether the state should intervene in infrastructure, but how. As an economic geographer, I would also declare a specific interest in identifying where the state should deliver interventions within and across different spatial levels. These questions, along with many others, are providing some of the context for new research by Glasgow University’s Professor Andy Cumbers on alternative economic strategies and infrastructure ownership models. A deeper exploration of these intricate patterns and processes, drawing upon emerging analysis and initial findings from the iBUILD programme, and elsewhere, should help us to arrive at a clearer definition and measurement of the economic, social and environmental value of urban infrastructure assets and systems, which ultimately will inform crucial long-term investment decisions.


iBUILD partners at Leeds University launch a new tool for planning and identifying how to capture value in district heating #ibuild @EnergyFrin

Leeds Heat LogoiBUILD researchers at Leeds University launch the Leeds Heat Planning Tool, a district heating planning tool for England and Wales, that can help local energy planners reduce fuel poverty.  The tool can help promote district heating and could help councils cut household fuel bills.

District heating can reduce household fuel bills by as much as 40% under the right business models. It makes use of highly efficient generation technologies such as combined heat and power plants or heat that would otherwise go to waste.
District heating has been highlighted as an important energy technology for the UK’s future low-carbon energy system.

The Leeds Heat Planning Tool, developed by researchers Ruth Bush and Dr Catherine Bale, offers energy planners a quick and simple way to include social considerations, such as fuel poverty, right from the early stages of planning a district heating development.
“Many local authorities are keen to use the opportunity that district heating presents to reduce carbon emissions and fuel poverty at the same time,” said Ruth Bush. “This tool offers an evidence base for planners to build a strong business case to ensure this can happen.”

Use the free online tool and see the accompanying report and video at:

#ibuild Professor Charles Ainger to speak to the School of Civil Engineering

The University of Birmingham is pleased to welcome Professor Charles Ainger to speak to the School of Civil Engineering .

When – Friday, 30th of May, 4.30pm – 6.00pm

Where – School of Civil Engineering, room F32 (first floor)

Cost – free!

Professor Ainger is co-author of the book ”Sustainable Infrastructure: Principles into Practice” recently published by the Institution of Civil Engineers (see:  The book will form the basis for his talk with a particular focus upon innovation opportunities in design (chapter 7):

Design within project delivery – asking the  right question at the right time; outline design – reviewing scope, deciding options – getting innovation in and keeping it there; outline design – choosing solutions and designs – using the right criteria, practically; influencing for innovation – who, me?

Charles Ainger  is Visiting Professor in Engineering for Sustainable Development at Cambridge University.  He is a former Sustainable Development Director for MWH’s UK Operations.  He has extensive water and environmental engineering experience in 16 countries from Europe to Asia.  His particular interest is in facilitating effective innovation and change leadership in organisations moving to a more sustainable and carbon neutral approach.  He is a recipient of an ICE President’s Medal.  Professor Ainger and his co-author Professor Richard Fenner are joint winners of the ICE George Stephenson Gold Medal.

We do hope you can join us.  The event is free to attend and registration is not required.  Food and refreshments will be provided.  If you require further information please contact me on or 07785 792 187.

Exicting #iBUILD PhD opportunity on #infrastructure business models @LeedsUniBSchool @nclceser

iBUILD is a consortium of Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham Universities. It is one of two Centres set up as part of the National Infrastructure Plan, published by the Government in 2011, with funding from the EPSRC and the ESRC. The Centres’ role is to catalyse and inform the national debate about the future of the UK’s infrastructure. The aim is to develop new approaches to infrastructure business models with the ultimate goal of replacing current public-private business models that in many cases provide poor value.

Leeds University Business School leads economics, business and social science-related research in iBuild. We are currently seeking PhD studentship applications for research topics that fit within this broad portfolio of research. Relevant general themes include value, well-being, resilience and sustainability. More specific themes include:

  • Infrastructure business models: what, how, when, and for whom do they work?
  • Financialisation and infrastructure: routes to long-term investment?
  • Infrastructure independencies: enhanced value or increased vulnerability?
  • Waste: what is ‘waste’ in a sustainable economy?
  • Scaling infrastructure processes and outcomes: one size fits all?
  • Systems of provision: tracking value from production to consumption
  • Infrastructure futures: how will we deliver services in 2100?

These themes arise in a context where the discipline of economics and its boundaries with other disciplines are in flux. For example, behavioural economics, agent-based complexity economics, happiness economics and, in the wake of the economic crisis, heterodox economics and political economy have emerged in interdisciplinary contexts such as economic geography, management and business studies (e.g. ‘value chain’ analysis) and international political economy (e.g. ‘varieties of capitalism’). The time is apposite to harness the best of these approaches to infrastructure studies. Applications from any relevant discipline are invited. Successful applicants will be attached to the new IMBUES Centre of LUBS (which coordinates LUBS’s contributions to iBuild).

The deadline for full applications is 30 April 2014. For further information on how to apply, please contact Matthew Armstrong at or

#ibuild iBUILD Stakeholder Day: Review of the Day

Report by Chris Bouch, University of Birmingham


Over 80 people from industry, national and local government and academia, attended the iBUILD Stakeholder Day, which took place last week in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Delegates heard from iBUILD researchers on progress so far; Chris Murray, Director of the Core Cities team, and Chris Zevenbergen, Chair of the UNESCO-IHE Flood Resilience Group, provided some new perspectives on their respective work; and everyone got involved in three workshops, aimed at advancing particular aspects of iBUILD’s research.  The day was rounded off with a dinner at the historic Blackfriars Banqueting Hall.

One of the issues being covered by iBUILD is sustainable regulation and governance of infrastructure; Andy Pike and Peter O’Brien from Newcastle University are leading on this and provided an update.  The background to regulation and governance is in a state of flux: the demand for infrastructure is rising, but national indebtedness, austerity and fiscal consolidation means governments are finding it hard to find the money to respond, leading to a search for new private and public funding models.  We have already seen an appetite from pension and sovereign wealth funds for infrastructure as an attractive asset class, with green-field infrastructure projects on a par with equity investment in terms of risk.  And this willingness to invest has led to the emergence of new funding and financing methods such as asset leverage and leasing mechanisms; the Government’s City Deals programme is one area where these new methods are being applied.  iBUILD’s research is exploring how this financial innovation is continuing, and to what extent it is influenced by the different types of governance involved: whether it be an elected mayor, or Local Enterprise Partnership.

In the Q and A that followed, John Bridge from the Carillion Local Education partnership queried just how helpful large, high value infrastructure projects are to the economy as a whole; contractors find them expensive to bid for, and often they do not provide continuity of work for local SMEs.  Yet we seem stuck in this ‘big project’ paradigm.  Rupert Green from Parsons Brinkerhoff stressed the importance of adopting governance structures flexible enough to accommodate lessons learned from earlier projects.  Ben Fine from the School of Oriental and African Studies questioned the extent to which the new financing mechanisms are bringing with them systemic risk, which will ultimately be borne by the tax payer.  And Ed Cox from IPPR suggested that different models were required for different scales: he gave the example of London attracting 86% of planned Government spend, while other parts of the country were made to make do with more risky financing methods.

Chris Murray gave a talk on England’s core cities as economic and infrastructure hubs.  The overall aim of the Core Cities’ programme is for the participating cities to outperform the U.K. economy; this will require freedom at the local level, coupled with leadership capable of joining things up to deliver more, better and faster.  The programme is taking place against a growing national interest in devolution of authority, and the prospect in the next few years of a ‘fiscal cliff’: local government funding commitments exceeding funds available.  There are already discernible shifts away from mechanistic, siloed and centralised approaches towards ones that are more organic, integrated and devolved.  To be strong and successful, cities will need to: be forward thinking and outward looking; be accepting of change; have a sense of ‘self’, with the inclusive governance and leadership to match; and pursue sustainable economics.

Feedback and questions arising from Chris’s talk covered a number of areas.  Stephen Hall from University of Leeds picked up on the fact that the U.K. is still missing a big chunk of the financial architecture that will be necessary if Core Cities is really to deliver; at the moment the approach still seems to be to socialise risk and privatise gain.  Hugh Clear-Hill from Northumberland County Council stressed the need to think holistically to ensure eco-system services and links between the city and surrounding countryside are not neglected.  Julia Steinberger from the University of Leeds highlighted the risk of thinking too locally, rather than focusing on the services that people need; there is a need therefore, to be more spatially aware.  Graham Thrower from University of Newcastle asked who should own infrastructure, when the principal aim is to capture maximum public value for a given public investment.

Research into social and environmental accounting is an important part of iBUILD; Tim Foxon from University of Leeds gave a talk on a related, iBUILD, low-carbon technology case study, looking at heat networks and smart grids.  The challenges are three-fold: incorporating social value in decision-making and business model development processes, which will require an holistic approach; aligning national policy to bring forward strategic infrastructure investment, which will require integration of infrastructure and low carbon objectives; and, policies, incentives and actors aligned to enable creation of strategic, local authority-led business models, which will require more power to core cities and local authorities.  Work is underway to explore the impact of policy measures on success of different models at various scales; and where is value created and appropriated, and how does this vary between scales.

In the discussion session, Ben Fine queried the extent to which social and cultural value can be fused with the economic; ideally, a method is required that does not resort to attempting to reduce everything to monetary values.  Seema Alim from Imperial College/CH2M Hill Inc. was interested in where project costings fitted in the value capture process.  Rupert Green highlighted the importance of governance structures in allowing projects to cross-subsidise where necessary; and, Kit England from Newcastle City Council stressed the importance of having access to the information necessary to make the business case.

The final speaker was Chris Zevenbergen, who described the latest thinking in the Netherlands on the protection of critical infrastructure from flooding.  The focus is on upgrading and integrating existing systems to improve resilience, rather than building new, stand-alone schemes.  The approach is two-tier: in the short-term carrying out low cost work with a big impact; while in the medium to longer term putting in place a gradual and continuous programme of resilience-based change.  The city of Dordrecht was given as an example of what can be achieved when this resilience-based approach to flood protection is adopted: all aspects of town planning are integrated into the flood defence plan, and in extreme events, although some flooding can be expected, the city is prepared.  Questions to Chris included: how best to convince the authorities that a particular low cost action is appropriate (normally a cost argument works well); Do you need an institution in place whose job it is to ‘worry’ about resilience (yes – in the Netherlands it is the Delta Commissioner); and, how do you persuade the general population to pay for flood protection (spread across the whole population of the Netherlands it amounts to a small tax surcharge, which most people don’t mind).

During the course of the day each delegate participated in three workshop sessions, aimed at particular aspects of the iBUILD research: infrastructure business model development; knowledge co-creation in the form of ‘decision theatre’; and scale and complexity.  The business model workshop took as its starting point a conceptual framework developed by the iBUILD team.  Participants were asked to try and identify gaps in the framework, or potential improvements, before trying to populate the framework with real world examples.  Feedback from the exercise suggested that the framework is a good starting point, but that it could do with being a bit simpler.  Having said that, it was felt that further work is required to explain in more detail that part of the process where the business model is created

The decision theatre workshop explored how the major shopping street in Newcastle might evolve and develop in the future from three perspectives: infrastructure and value; infrastructure, value and scale; and, future infrastructure collaborations.  Feedback highlighted the need to look at evolution from the perspectives of different stakeholders: particularly different age groups.  There was a feeling that the street was trying to be all things to all people and not really succeeding; the question was asked whether a ‘unique selling proposition’ was required.  And there was a suggestion that development ‘conversations’ should be people and environment-focused.

Finally the scale and complexity workshop investigated the interactions between local and national business models for energy, in preparation for more detailed modelling.  Feedback highlighted the presence of ‘diverse and fearsome constraints’ to scaling.  National and local regulations need to be aligned, and perhaps a duty on infrastructure stakeholders to co-operate would be helpful.

So, an excellent and productive day was had by all.  The next Stakeholder Day is scheduled for Wednesday 12th November 2014 in Leeds; however, rather than wait until then, the iBUILD team will be working to maintain an on-going, two-way dialogue between stakeholders and researchers.