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Mountbatten Memorial Lecture: Modernising Britain's Victorian Infrastructure - An Engineering Opportunity

Brian S Collins, CB, FREng, FBCS, CITP, FIET, C Eng, FIOP, FICE, FRSA, RCDS, MA, DPhil

From: The Mountbatten Memorial Lecture, Savoy Place, London, 15 November 2012

15 November 2012  News

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About the presentation

The national systems that provide us with vital services – water, energy, transport, waste management and information services – are in need of urgent modernisation if the UK is to make best use of the latest technological innovations and remain economically competitive and a desirable place to live and work.

In the UK, we expect our infrastructure to work all the time and to be commercially, socially and environmentally acceptable. A lot of it was built in the Victorian era so to ensure it works in the future we need to redesign and modernise it.

The services and systems are mostly operated by private sector organisations, not necessarily UK-owned, but a few are still in public sector control. Since the start of privatisation in the early 1980s, there has been little coordination of how we as a nation modernise infrastructure. We run the risk that the prevailing short-term thinking will deter design for future adaptability and resilience. So we have to ask ourselves whether the existing regimes for governance and regulation can deliver the coherence that is essential for successful modernisation.

If we are to exploit innovations in technology, such as new materials, better diagnostic sensors and data exploitation we also need new systemic ways of thinking about infrastructure. Over the past 30 years a revolution in information and communications technologies (ICT) has had a considerable impact on most aspects of modern life but as yet little on the provision of national infrastructure.

These challenges and opportunities, relevant to all engineering disciplines but particularly the ICT engineers, must be addressed and exploited if we are to keep our place as a leading developed nation.

About the speaker

Professor Brian Collins took up the position of Professor of Engineering Policy at UCL in August 2011. Prior to that he was the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) from October 2006 and CSA for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) from May 2008. Energy policy was in his remit for part of that time, Brian left both positions at the end of May 2011.

Brian is also currently chairing an Engineering and Interdependency Expert Group for Infrastructure UK, led by Lord James Sassoon, Commercial Secretary in Her Majesty’s Treasury.

Brian was bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen the Honour of Companion of the Bath (CB) in the 2011 New Years Honours list and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2009.

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