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Design champions on board for major infrastructure schemes

Words: Huw Morris
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All major infrastructure projects will have a design champion at board level by the end of next year, the government has announced.

The National Infrastructure Strategy said design champions would be at the project, programme or organisational level and would be supported where appropriate by design panels. The move had been recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

“Such panels should include members with a broad range of skills and expertise,” according to the strategy. “These design champions and panels should work closely with the NIC and the design group to consider how their principles can be effectively and proportionately embedded in the UK’s infrastructure system and share good practice.”

The move fits in with the government’s Project Speed programme, set up in the summer to review and identify improvements across the infrastructure project life cycle.

An update on Project Speed in the strategy pledged to embed good design in all infrastructure projects through planning reforms as well encouraging a step change  in capability and leadership, accelerating investment in major project expertise and delivery skills.

Sadie Morgan, who chairs the NIC’s design group, welcomed the move.

“We’re particularly pleased to see government back our recommendation for all major national infrastructure projects to have a board-level design champion supported by a design panel, to help ensure schemes are built sustainably to a high standard, looking beyond their core function to add value to communities and the natural environment,” she said.

“We will continue to encourage the government and their project partners to use our Design Principles for National Infrastructure as a tool for achieving this. We hope this comes to be seen as a watershed moment in improving the quality of design across infrastructure for both local and national projects.”

The strategy revealed that a review by the government’s Project Speed task force has cut the timeline for the £1 billion A66 trans-Pennine Road upgrade in half. The Highways England scheme, which involves a new bypass, dualling along sections of road and major junction improvements, was originally forecast to take more than 15 years, including four more years of development and 10 years of construction.

The Project Speed review identified ways to save up to 50 per cent of time in the planned construction process, cutting this to five years. The time savings are due to increasing modular and offsite design and construction practices.

Elsewhere, the strategy outlines the launch of a National Infrastructure Planning Reform Programme. This will focus on the development consent order and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime with the aim of cutting timescales by 50 per cent with coordinated reviews of national policy statements.

 Infrastructure Planning Reform, NSIPsImage credit | iStock