Sustainable infrastructure through asset management

In our final blog of Responsible Business Week, Geotechnical Engineer Janvi Shah, discusses the benefits of a long term asset management approach in delivering sustainable infrastructure.

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As a sustainable business, Amey supports the resilience and sustainability of our country’s infrastructure as well as that of our international clients.

Key challenges currently being faced by the infrastructure industry worldwide include increased demand for assets (such as roads, bridges, railways, water treatment plants etc), climate change and growing interdependencies between different asset types.

Due to the ongoing changes to our economic, social and environmental landscapes, there is an increasing pressure to develop robust, flexible and multifunctional asset management solutions that not only suit the needs of the present but ensure they are safe, secure and resilient to what the future may hold.

To manage these changing conditions, asset owners (such as Amey’s customers) are working towards improving their asset management processes. With many countries targeting significant levels of capital investment in energy, transport, communications, flood management and water infrastructure; there is a vital need for asset management frameworks that can provide resilient asset support.

Moving to a longer term focus

Currently, asset management tools focus predominantly on data management, deterioration modelling, condition and risk assessment, as well as economic factors (such as whole-life costing and maintenance which looks at not just the initial work but the cost to maintain the asset over a certain period of time). Some also consider the vulnerabilities of a network to climate change and extreme weather events such as ice or flooding. However, rather than taking a long-term view, asset management strategies are often short term, typically five years or so. What is needed is a long-term approach, which will ensure resilient to what the future may hold in 20, or even 50 years.

In the UK, Sir John Armitt, the former Olympic Delivery Authority Chairman (London 2012), in his review of the infrastructure plan, advocated developing a politically independent National Infrastructure Commission that would provide advice to the government on infrastructure policies based on a long term strategic plan. This is drawn from an evidence-based assessment of UK infrastructure needs over a 25-30 year horizon. It suggested that long term planning would help address the issue of increasing demand and ageing assets.

In the UK, various asset owners have started to recognise this need. For example some local authorities have now started to look at long term maintenance strategies and funding options that involve maintaining their infrastructure assets over a longer period of time with partial funding coming from the private sector.

A sustainable Birmingham

An example of this is Amey’s contract with Birmingham City Council. We are responsible for improving and maintaining Birmingham Highways infrastructure, including 2,500km of road network, nearly 100,000 street lights and over 850 highway structures and bridges across the city. The contract has a 25 year service delivery period which includes the improvement and repair of roads in Birmingham, maintenance of footways, bridges, street lighting and traffic signals along with the upkeep of street scenery, such as safety barriers, seats and trees.

After the initial five year investment period, we will maintain the infrastructure for a further 20 years providing long term asset management opportunities. The contract has further sustainability benefits; following the installation of over 10,000 low energy LED light fittings in residential streets, delivering a reduction of 50% in carbon emissions and over £2million a year in savings on the city’s electricity bill.

In addition to this, our work considers the impact on the socio-economic aspects of asset management by working closely with the Council’s Highways service to reduce congestion and improve safety as well as supporting the council’s overall traffic management strategy.

Long term, sustainable benefits

Long term contracts also help to improve the development of local communities by increasing job opportunities and retaining the trained staff for the long tenure of the contract. As a part of our Birmingham contract, over 1000 local suppliers are being employed in addition to the Amey employees in the area.

Long-term asset management and planning provides a better view of the socio-economic, environmental and technological landscapes and gives an advantage to the asset owner, service provider and ultimately the end user.

To develop modern state of the art asset management systems and tools that focus on sustainable, long-term decision making; it is imperative to establish collaborative working between policy makers, planners, designers and end users. Strong ties between academic and industrial subject matter experts can also lead to effective research and development in this field.