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Putting the end user first

Mike McNicholas | 21 May 2015 | Comments

Half the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, currently live in cities and this is estimated to reach 60 per cent by 2030 and 75 per cent by 2050. How we develop social infrastructure to meet the demands of these population shifts and the evolving way we live and work is critically important.

At a recent roundtable debate with The Guardian, we considered some of the challenges associated with developing social infrastructure for UK cities and communities, and one of the main challenges posed was how do we guarantee future investment in infrastructure not only generates economic benefits but also improves quality of life for the end user?

Historically, the emphasis on cities has been about economic and financial gain, however with our rapidly expanding population, social gain is no longer a ‘desired add-on’ and has become just as important – although I think we still have to ask whether we are putting enough thought into health, livelihood, the environment and so on.

David Leam of London First rightly said during the debate that, “if we want London to remain a successful leading world community that brings big benefits to the whole country then quality of life really matters”. Although there are examples of good practice in Britain’s new builds where quality of life requirements are being considered, it still hasn’t become the norm.

Sally Prentice, a London Borough of Lambeth planning committee member, specifically mentioned the development at Battersea Power Station during the debate; she fears that not enough is being done to provide social infrastructure there.

She stated that “only a ‘tiny amount’ of affordable housing has been included in the plans, and the rest will likely be buy to let, second homes and property owned abroad, lots of very luxurious accommodation plus another big shopping centre” and questioned whether this is really what London needs.

As the project director for Atkins’ work on the London 2012 Olympic Park, I think the legacy programme it left behind could be used as a best practice example of what should be considered when developing future infrastructure in UK cities.

Social value was added in a number of ways including providing affordable housing, developing facilities for various sporting and cultural events, landscaping open spaces both adults and children can enjoy and developing resources so local schools can use the outdoor park space for teaching.

Not only has this improved the quality of life for people who live and work in the area, it has ensured that Stratford still remains a place that tourists want to visit even after the Olympics, which in turn has had a positive impact on business in the area.

Hopefully there will continue to be more best practice examples in cities and communities around the UK where the end user and their quality of life is the main requirement when developing infrastructure, rather than focusing solely on economic gain.