Sustainable and affordable infrastructure - can we really have both?

It is not often that we hear about initiatives or innovations in infrastructure that truly have the capacity to transform local communities and the nation as a whole. But I think one came along this week.

To be fair – as is so often the way with infrastructure – I wouldn’t imagine that very many people did actually hear very much about this exciting initiative. Such things tend to get easily passed over by the mainstream media.

A small story perhaps. But never-the-less, mark my words, the new green loan programme to fund the switch to LED streetlights being rolled out with Glasgow City Council by the Green Investment Bank this week is going to make a massive impact on the landscape and communities of the nation.

In many ways it is the sustainable, green infrastructure nirvana – government-backed loans to enable cash-strapped local authorities and public bodies to switch to modern technologies that will quickly pay for themselves out of the savings made.  

Huge operational cost savings will be delivered long into the future along with an injection of cash to create a sudden boom in workload across the local and national supply chain.

Add to that the benefits of better, more controllable and reliable lighting and you have positives across the board from transport efficiency and safety to crime reduction and improved community welfare.

It is so simple and the benefits so obvious that it really makes you wonder why we are only just doing it. 

Well the answer in this case is partly to do with the technology now being properly available and partly to do with the existence of the Green Investment Bank to invent such schemes.

But for me it doesn’t stop there. Another major reason is the drive that has been put behind this initiative by a client in Glasgow with a vision for a sustainable future and a clear understanding that  this “greenness” must absolutely come with benefits to the public purse.

Which is why the decision by government to extend support for the Green Construction Board, the joint industry-government group charged with promoting sustainable economic growth in the construction industry, is such a welcome move. 

The reality is that when it comes to infrastructure, while being green is aspirational and worthy, only affordability cuts it in the real world of getting stuff built. That has to change. The future is not one or the other. We must and can be both sustainable and affordable. 

Glasgow’s example must be replicated across the nation. Equally the Green Construction Board must use the next two years to drive home the message to the infrastructure community from client down through the supply chain, that we do have the vision and capability to lead change and benefit.

As the government’s construction 2025 strategy repeatedly points out, there are “significant opportunities as the green agenda gathers pace”. We must not miss them.

Antony Oliver is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence

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