“Covid-19 change may prove short-lived” Sir John Armitt

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UK’s National Infrastructure Commission Chair warns that short term change often does not last.

Speaking at the Global Infrastructure Conference, the chairman of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission warned that We face a very uncertain future and the Covid-19 crisis has had a very severe impact in the short term, but that change may not last.

“Which aspects of behaviour change brought about by Covid-19 might remain with us over the longer term? The National Infrastructure Commission found that short term indicators of behaviour change are not always good indicators of long-term trends.”

Instead, he warned that the bigger picture – climate change – had to be the major focus, stating that, “The cost of inaction will far outweigh the cost of taking action”.

His speech contrasted the extent to which we cannot expect change to last, with the need for lasting change over time.

“Public transport faces the widest range of impacts from Covid-19. However, a reduction in demand is far from certain. It would require significant increases in long-term homeworking and 20% reductions in leisure travel.”  

“Our infrastructure planning must think about long term strategy and avoid the risks of a stop-start approach. But major decisions cannot be unduly postponed. So we may need a more adaptive approach to project decisions… In my experience it can be better to extend the design phase to ensure objectives are clear before construction begins.”

To achieve this, he stressed that a data-led approach was invaluable.

“The NIC places great store on data for reaching its conclusions rather than opinion. Realtime data can offer clues to which of the Covid-19 scenarios are playing out in reality.”

Behind this has to be the right approach to long-term carbon objectives, and he was clear that this had to be part of everyone’s way of working now.

“Our thinking needs to be sustainable for decades hence, and our efforts need to produce a sustainable approach to natural capital and decarbonisation.