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It is set to be a busy day on 23 June, 2016. Alongside the UK’s referendum on its membership of the European Union, it is also National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) and the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Imagination Realised awards in London, which recognise exceptional engineering ideas and expertise.

It is the third year that the Women’s Engineering Society has celebrated NWED and the role of women in the field of engineering, and for Atkins it offers another opportunity to highlight the work of thousands of women who lead our engineering efforts across the world.

Tackling the gender gap

While much progress has been made in recent years, there’s no doubt that a gender gap still persists in the sector. Recent research by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology shows that only 9% of UK engineering professionals are women compared to 18% in Spain, 26% in Sweden and 20% in Italy. Yet Atkins’ own research reveals the enormous opportunities available to women in engineering, including proven career development, the chance to lead, innovate and to travel and work overseas.

Solving the gender imbalance in engineering will not be simple. It will require the efforts of schools, universities, professional bodies, and all the companies that operate in the sector. But the benefits of greater gender parity are well documented and undeniable: greater innovation, higher returns, true job satisfaction and significant economic, human and social benefits.

Though there is still much work to be done, the following personal stories from Atkins' women across our business underline how rewarding an engineering career can be – and how vital women are in Atkins’ ongoing success. 

Farida Farag, architect and urban designer
Atkins, Middle East

Farida Farrag“I grew up in Abu Dhabi, a city where new buildings, new malls and even new islands popped up every other day. I wanted to overcome the tendency to be a passive observer and get involved.

“When one of my senior colleagues gave me the big responsibility of leading a design team and liaising with the project manager, the client and the contractor, it gave me the confidence to lead. I was fortunate to get that opportunity. Sometimes it takes someone to trust you before you trust yourself.

“I’ve seen a change of mindset during my career. Attitudes towards women on site, in particular, have changed for the better. They used to be perceived as men-only spaces, but now they are more inclusive – a place of assembly, where things come together. Technology has undoubtedly contributed to that shift, but minds have also changed.

“There is no doubt that for mid-career women, it can be a challenge if you have kids because of the long hours. However, that is an issue for both men and women. In this respect, flexibility is key, and engineering needs to catch up with other industries.

“My advice to any woman starting a career in engineering is to seek a mentor. A mentor is someone you can confide in and his or her experiences can guide you.

“Diversity is crucial. It encourages knowledge sharing, new ways of working and ultimately, greater creative output.”

Deanna Gierzak, engineer
Atkins’ energy business, North America

Deanna Gierzak“I didn’t always want to be an engineer. I was artistic and enjoyed expressing myself, but had always excelled at math and science since I was very young, and it took my dad’s encouragement to see that I could do something with that. I wasn’t sure engineering would fit with my desire to be creative, but he really inspired me to find a way to bring those two sides of my brain together.

“People tend to put women in the box marked ‘emotion’, but perpetuating that stereotype – and generally any stereotypes – is unhelpful, and that needs to change. It would be helpful to change the way subjects are presented in education. If a girl does better than a boy at school, but knows that her male counterpart will go into a career in a subject and earn more than her, what is the motivation for her?

“Currently, girls are being pushed into STEM fields – and pushed to succeed – yet statistics tend to show that they’re not equally rewarded for their successes. It would benefit everyone to abandon gender stereotypes early on, because a lot of the stereotypes we think are true of men and women (and boys and girls) are most likely due to beliefs in society that we perpetuate through education.” 

“When I was interviewing for the job, Ana Ramirez [CFO, Atkins’ Energy office in Charlotte] took me out for lunch afterwards. I felt I could talk to her about my hopes and fears about pursuing a career in engineering, and about being a woman in what is still a male-dominated industry. She completely understood where I was coming from and really motivated me, and has continued to be a source of encouragement and advice.

“In January, I was pulled onto a project that I hadn’t worked on before and was asked to jump on a call with a major client who wanted a hazard analysis within three weeks. I came up with a hazard plan myself, created a disaster table rating different categories of risk, and summarised my results in a technical report. It made me realise how important our work is, and has encouraged me to keep pushing forward.”

Janet Miller, sector director for cities and development
Atkins, UK

Janet Miller“One of my bosses, Richard Alvey, was very inspiring and drew me from the heritage sector into the urban development agenda. He enabled me to get involved in developing proposals and concepts, and that meant understanding how masterplans affect people’s lives. He made me realise that I could bring something different to the team.

“Putting together masterplans for project overseas, like the one that we’re doing in Morocco now, has been a huge leap. Recognising that I could lead those plans because I understood all angles of the project was a really pivotal moment for me.

“There is sometimes pressure to send men and women in different directions that are not always ideal: men are encouraged to develop financial understanding, while women are often pushed to collaborate and work across teams, for example.

“If a woman starting out in engineering came to me, I’d pass on some advice that I was given early on: get to know the numbers. They are what count in a private business. Collaboration is fine, but understanding the numbers is critical.

“I was advised to get a role, job title, and objectives that I could be measured against. I had become something of a firefighter in my department, which I enjoyed, but it wasn’t good for my career. Just being helpful isn’t going to help you climb the ladder. You’re in competition with men who have big projects and responsibilities, so secure a proper job.

“Working in silos doesn’t tend to lead to innovation. We innovate because society needs different things and the impact that we have at Atkins is ultimately on people and communities. The only way that we can reflect their lives and characters and innovate is by having a diverse workplace that draws from lots of different perspectives.”

Marie Lam-Frendo, associate director
Atkins Acuity, Asia Pacific

Marie Lam-Frendo“I started my engineering career as a dam designer. It was interesting, because there are no building codes, and you have to figure things out yourself. That means you push yourself to the limits which is both challenging and satisfying.

“The real challenges I encountered at the beginning of my career were because of my gender: when I was doing my master’s thesis, I was told that, as a hire, I posed a risk because I’m a woman.

“The gender gap starts at university. In my class, there were only about three women out of a total of 30. Engineering just did not appeal to a lot of women. Many view it as having a long hours culture, a male-dominated environment and are attracted to other lucrative sectors, such as finance. But education is crucial – without this, the gender gap will never close.

“Sometimes as women, we have to be assertive. Don’t be shy and ask questions. I see a lot of women doing really good work in the background, laying the foundations of a project, but when it comes to the meeting, they let the men do all the talking and take all the credit. Being a good engineer isn’t enough – you have to go beyond that. And if there is bad behaviour, call people out on it and find a way to stop it happening again.

“Diversity is so important to a company like Atkins: companies that embrace diversity tend to enjoy more growth than those that don’t, and are more likely to develop new markets. So it also makes sense from a business perspective.”

Martine Fils-Aime, transportation engineer
Atkins, North America

Martine Fils-Aime“When I was at school, I-95 [the main Interstate Highway on the East Coast of the US], was being built near my home and it really caught my attention. The whole process was fascinating. Miami is so congested, and it was amazing what they achieved – really high flyover lanes and bridges. I saw the whole thing from the beginning to end and was hooked.

“I was lucky to have Peter Kelliher as my manager, who sadly passed away in 2011. He was instrumental in shaping the office here. I worked with him for eight years on projects from when I first started in Tampa, Florida. He had a good sense of what was important, and he shaped me into the engineer that I am today.

“I remember working on a project with him that had eight bridges and a complex design to avoid negatively impacting the area. He gave me the opportunity to lead that project – and I loved it. It involved setting horizontal and vertical alignments, and dealing with property owners who were very sensitive. It was a huge job dealing with everything, and I was able to show that I was capable of designing complex solutions and delivering them.

“As engineers, all of us – men and women – have to have a broad range of perspectives, because we’re working in a people business. You have to understand people and not be swayed by your own biases or preconceptions.

“There’s no place for ignorance, so studying something that is completely separate to the engineering world is never a bad idea. I took several courses in anthropology and humanities, and it really added to my understanding of the world and other cultures.”

Yuri Chan, senior engineer
Atkins, Asia Pacific

Yuri Chan“My sister worked in engineering and she inspired me to follow this path. I thought what she was doing sounded so interesting, and it certainly didn’t sound like a routine job. Knowing that she was involved in both the design and construction elements of projects really sparked my interest.

“I was glad to have the opportunity to work in the UK upon graduation. Throughout this initial stage of my career, I was thankful that there were so many experienced and helpful seniors and colleagues who were always willing to share their invaluable experience and personal insights.

“The most important moment in my career so far has been joining Atkins in Hong Kong. It was a challenge for me as the working environments in the UK and Hong Kong are very different, but it has helped me develop and learn to adapt to change.  I am very grateful that my current manager has put so much confidence in me to lead a small team and work across a variety of projects, and I truly enjoy working in the airport team here as an engineer.  

“The perception that construction sites are dangerous and only really appropriate for men have discouraged women from pursuing a career in engineering, so improving safety will play a big part in addressing this.”  

Atkins' Chairman, Allan Cook CBE, said:

"When we celebrate women in engineering during a time of huge skills shortage, we must work together to diversify and encourage more young people, of any gender or social backgrounds to pursue engineering. As Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Diversity Leadership I firmly believe we need to work towards this goal. There are notable women in our industry who've shared their journey into engineering and it's important for more women to work in our industry. We should help others do the same."

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, Group, North America, UK & Europe,

Prefab redux

02 Jun 2016

Using offsite construction building methods and modes isn’t anything new. Prefabs have been a feature of construction projects for years.

But for designers, engineers and planners, the possibilities that offsite construction methods and materials can offer have begun to present genuine, lasting and cost-effective solutions to some seemingly intractable problems: housing shortages in areas of high population density; the need to update dilapidated school stock in these straitened times; and delivering robust buildings for engineering and military projects, often in hostile environments.

But what exactly do we mean by ‘prefab’ in 2016? In practice, the term covers a wider range of techniques than simple boxes.

The first is template, where the form of the building is predetermined and a client effectively buys off plan to a pre-designed solution. This is typified by the Sunesis range of designs, which Atkins has produced for the Keynes primary school range. Through this approach, schools were pre-designed, allowing school leaders to choose the configuration of classrooms based on a standard template. This was then delivered within a shortened timescale.

The second type is volumetric, where a building is made using pre-formed box volumes of space that are constructed off site and assembled on site.

The final system, kit of parts, has nuances but generally relies on creating rules for designers that define aspects such as structural dimensions, the number of components and certain limitations on how these can be assembled. “This is typified by solutions that Atkins has developed alongside major contractors such as Laing O'Rourke,” says John Edwards, associate architect at Atkins in the UK. “This approach potentially gives the greatest flexibility to clients and designers alike.”

Modular learning

Over the last few years, Edwards has led a number of projects where offsite construction has allowed engineers to deliver solutions faster, cheaper and with less environmental impact.

So far, much of his work has centred on schools, where there is a pressing need for cost-effective solutions to address a lack of space. “The desperate need for new school places has only partially been addressed,” he says, explaining that the shortfall cannot be met entirely with new, traditionally built schools. Refurbishing schools, as well as extending existing facilities, can deliver results quickly.

“Authorities are looking at a school campus from this point of view and considering extending certain buildings because they have a rise in the number of primary school pupils,” he adds.

Given the possible demographic shifts that can take place within certain areas, the benefits of a modular school constructed offsite are even more marked. “The clever thing would be if you could move that building, once it was no longer needed, back to the factory and re-service it for future use elsewhere,” says Edwards. “That’s when you start looking at things that don’t have foundations or have very minimal ones.”

And while a significant benefit of offsite construction focuses on standardisation – reducing cost and time – Edwards is at pains to emphasise other, less obvious angles. “Rather than being obsessed with this word ‘standardisation’, we should be looking at innovation and creativity,” he says.

“For instance, using new technology and data, we are beginning to use our understanding of light to inform how we design and create spaces for the end user. This also helps us to reduce reliance on complicated mechanical and electrical systems, and environmental impacts and running costs.”

Edwards’ pioneering projects have already delivered tangible benefits. New buildings show improvements in the use of recyclable material, reduced waste, optimised durability over the course of the building’s lifespan, and lower water and energy use – both during construction and while the building is in regular use.

One of the more striking examples of this approach can be seen at the new Lime Tree Primary School, south of Manchester, which was designed using the Select modular assembly system – a unique hybrid steel and precast concrete volumetric system pioneered by Laing O’Rourke. The solution cuts down the amount of on-site labour required as well as reducing cost and materials used.  

At Lime Tree, the 1,650m2 build, designed to accommodate 420 pupils, was delivered in just 19 weeks, and encapsulates how offsite construction techniques, coupled with traditional schemes, can help schools nationally meet increasing demographic demands.

The bespoke design for a ‘forest’ school gives Lime Tree a highly specialised environment that prioritises outdoor learning and direct engagement with nature. Off-site construction kept time on site to a minimum – allowing the whole project to be delivered over the course of a summer holiday – while the ability to design the school to specific needs makes it a genuinely distinctive learning environment.

Military missions

It’s not only school building that lends itself to offsite construction. This approach offers a solution for any setting where the use of heavy materials may present a problem or where project duration has to be curtailed. One such arena that is increasingly turning to offsite construction is the military.

From Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa, the need for sturdy military buildings has grown exponentially in the last decade. This is partly explained by the changing nature of military strategy; more and more operations are relatively ‘light footprint’ – with rapid reaction forces and a more agile approach increasingly favoured over a longer-term focus on the occupation of territory.

As Terry Suehr, director, project management excellence at Atkins in Virginia, US, explains, the main challenge in the military sphere has been to build high spec, durable structures in hostile environments, under immense time pressure.

Suehr led the project to design and build comprehensive architectural engineering services for 10 two-storey modular barracks at two separate project sites at Bagram Airfield, the US military base in Afghanistan.

The relocatable buildings (RLBs) – which are fondly referred to as ‘man in a can’ by the military – contained 36 containerised living units (CLU) each. Six RLBs are located at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility project site, and four at the nearby Ronco site.

Shipping containers were repurposed for use as housing facilities, with one living unit per container, all opening to the exterior. The barracks represented a successful attempt to find a middle ground between temporary tent-based accommodation and a permanent structure. Sturdy and easily assembled, the units were also designed to be relocatable, as and when the end of the mission arrived and a new need was identified.

“All of the exterior walkways and stairs were bolted in place so you could disassemble them and move the facilities if required,” says Suehr, who stresses the importance of designing a simple facility that enabled regular maintenance following the departure of skilled engineers. That was especially true at Camp Lemonnier, the project on which Suehr advised in Djibouti.

“You don’t have the skilled labour, so there are a lot of challenges with that,” she says, recalling the work required to build an air base for the Japanese military, which needed a more permanent structure from which to co-ordinate its anti-piracy mission.

“In Djibouti, like Afghanistan, it really affected the way we designed. We had to understand the skill levels of the labourers and change a lot of our designs accordingly. We could never use welding, for instance.”

The Atkins team worked with construction partners who knew the skill levels of the local labour force. “There was a tremendous amount of collaboration back and forth,” says Suehr. “We’d go through the specifications and the way we were going to design them, and our partners would give us feedback and say, ‘No, I don’t have labourers who know how to do that. I need you to design it this way instead’”.  

She adds: “Initially the operators of these facilities would have been Americans, but at some point, they were handing them over to the Afghans or other local forces, like the water treatment plants and storage facilities and waste water storage. We had to make all the equipment and systems very simple, very maintainable and able to withstand the harsh conditions. We couldn’t use the technologies common in the US.”

Through adapting designs off site, the Atkins team could create units that were constructed offsite and fit for purpose – portable, durable, cost effective, easily assembled and maintained.

Connected cities

Beyond the temporary fixes of war zones, offsite modular construction is also playing a significant part in the long-term development of cities. One project, New Islington in Manchester, even allows residents to help design their new homes, which are then assembled on site.

And far beyond the UK, advanced offsite construction schemes are already taking shape. Take the Chinese desert city of Karamay in the isolated province of Xinjinag Uygur, north west China, for example.

Its origins as an oil city can be seen in the grime on its oldest structures but in recent years, provincial authorities decided that Karamay needed to take the next, belated step in its own development: to become a vibrant, varied city that attracts new immigrants and offers a broader range of social, economic and cultural resources. Central to this has been the construction of the Karamay Cloud Computing Industry Park, the centrepiece of the new Karamay economy.

Karamay’s climate is harsh – bitterly cold in winter and scorching in summer – making long-term construction difficult. Finding the right skills and materials to build from the ground up was a major challenge, both logistically and financially.

In terms of engineering complexity, it is relatively easy to create a business park, but Karamay was different because the design had to be more modular to allow construction off site. The buildings were linked, like pods, and had to be relatively lightweight, so as to be built easily off site, transported and then bolted together.

This allowed engineers to create a network of linked offices. This is particularly useful in winter, as it allows people to move between them without having to go outside and face the ice, snow and wind.

From the desert plains of Afghanistan to a densely populated suburb of a large city in the UK, offsite construction techniques are helping more and more sustainable solutions to take shape. The only question now is, what’s next?

UK & Europe, Asia Pacific, North America,

Soaring 60 storeys above Dubai, a new skyscraper is rewriting the rules of high-rise architecture. Instead of having a conventional façade, the award-winning Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village tower will incorporate ‘sky gardens’ – lush green balconies with trees and plants – to create a healthy and attractive living environment.

According to the building’s principal architect, the idea is not only to design a building that looks good, but also one that is good for the people that use it.

“Tower residents often feel isolated and miss a connection to the natural environment which is important to their wellbeing,” explains Hussam Abdelghany, associate director, Atkins in Middle East. “Our approach relies on parametric design tools to create liveable outdoor spaces that enjoy a good level of natural ventilation, natural lighting and well-shaded gardens during the majority of the day. These integrated sky gardens add a social and environmental perspective that contributes to the wellbeing of the high-rise residents.”

The Dubai tower, which will include apartments and hotel rooms, underlines the way that wellbeing is becoming central to the way buildings are designed. It’s symptomatic of a major shift in architectural thinking, believes Philip Watson, Atkins’ UK design director.

“As architects and designers, we put a lot of effort into reducing energy bills and looking at sustainability with regard to energy and carbon savings. This is vital, but it has very little impact on people,” he says. “For me, wellbeing is about viewing design and planning through a new lens with the user at the centre. And it’s the user experience and wellbeing that are more important than anything.”

Wellbeing takes into account all of the building-related factors that have a bearing on physical and mental health. “These include light levels, air quality and carbon dioxide levels – all of the things that may have been picked up when we used to talk about sick building syndrome,” explains Dr Caroline Paradise, UK head of design research, Atkins. “There’s also a psychological dimension linked to our perception of space and the environment.”

Atkins is actively promoting the incorporation of wellbeing principles in the buildings it designs through its recently-launched ‘Wellbriefing’ engagement process. This provides building users with tools to prioritise aspects of the built environment that are important to their health and wellbeing – before the detailed design process gets under way. The process is applicable to buildings of any type.

Making the case

The idea that buildings can help or hinder their occupants has deep roots. The Roman architect Vitruvius, for example, had firm beliefs about how buildings should be designed and codified many of his thoughts in The Ten Books on Architecture more than 2,000 years ago. Although architects through the ages have taken a keen interest in the effects their buildings have on people, systematic research into the factors associated with wellbeing is relatively recent.

Scientific insights are now helping architects to design buildings that are not only attractive for users, but also improve employee performance. This matters because staff costs typically account for about 90% of an organisation’s outgoings, so even small improvements in wellbeing can have a big impact on company fortunes.

Workplace studies, for example, have linked improvements in ventilation – including dedicated delivery of fresh air to workstations and reduced levels of pollutants – with productivity gains of up to 11%.

Research also highlights the negative effects of bad ventilation: poor air quality and high temperatures can reduce key aspects of employee performance, such as typing speed, by up to 10%. High levels of carbon dioxide – another symptom of poor ventilation – are linked with tiredness and impeded decision making.

Providing a connection with nature – a key component of an area known as biophilic design – has been shown to have positive effects. Exposure to natural sounds, for example, can help to reduce heart rate. Access to a window with a view of the natural environment is also therapeutic, reducing heart rate 1.6 times faster than a space with a digital view or no view at all.

The role of light is critical. A study by neuroscientists showed that office staff with windows received more than 170% more white light exposure while at work and on average, slept an extra 46 minutes every night. Those without windows had poorer scores on quality of life measures such as vitality and poorer sleep quality.

Top marks

Better buildings not only have the potential to transform the way people work, but also the way that they learn. In schools, for example, studies show that well-designed buildings and classrooms can significantly improve academic performance by reducing distractions, improving physical comfort and providing stimulation for pupils.

One of the first major studies into the influence of classroom design on academic performance was carried out in the UK with a sample that included more than 3,700 pupils across 27 schools. Results from the first phase of the study were published in 2013, with the second phase reported in 2015. “It’s one of only a handful of studies in the education sector that look at live environments and a holistic impact on student performance – it’s significant because there haven’t been many holistic studies of this sort collating such a large data set,” says Paradise, who was part of the team that carried out the research.

The study, which covered buildings constructed between the 1880s and the 2000s, found that school design had a 16% impact on children’s learning rates.

Among the factors that had the biggest impact on learning were light (east or west-facing classrooms are best with abundant daylight and a low risk of glare), temperature (less sun heating is better) and air quality – high-volume rooms with window openings at different heights provide the best range of ventilation options. Factors linked to personalisation, flexibility, room layouts and colour also had positive impacts.

What’s clear is that buildings have a direct impact on the performance of the people using them. Equally important is the impact on health. This matters because the economic and personal burden associated with ill health is enormous.  In the UK, for example, mental health problems are estimated to cost employers £26 billion each year.

“If we can reduce stress and sickness, and help people to perform better, we can have a huge impact on business efficiency,” believes Watson. “There are also wider benefits in terms of reducing the social and economic costs of ill health. The impact of wellbeing in buildings is potentially much bigger than we realise.”

Click here to discover more about how Atkins is putting wellbeing at the heart of building design. 

For part 1 of our wellbeing feature, please click here.

Middle East & Africa, UK & Europe,

Mention the word ‘wellbeing’ and the last thing most people think of is buildings. Yet there’s growing evidence that they should. Poorly-designed buildings are now being linked to everything from ill health to underachievement in schools and reduced productivity in the workplace.

“Buildings have an enormous impact on personal wellbeing,” says Philip Watson, UK design director, Atkins. “Factors such as air quality, how much daylight there is, whether you’ve got a view, the presence of pollutants, acoustics – all of these things have a direct impact on physiological wellbeing.”

Psychological wellbeing is also at stake. “A lot of this is linked to the way buildings support social interaction,” says Dr Caroline Paradise, UK head of design research, Atkins. “People need a working environment where they feel comfortable, have a sense of belonging and feel connected to the people around them – without increasing stress levels with too many people and too much noise. It’s a fine balance.”


Designing better buildings

To ensure buildings provide the best possible environment, Atkins has developed an innovative engagement process and tool that enables clients and building users to prioritise aspects of the built environment that are important to their health and wellbeing. Priorities captured through the process are then translated into a building brief and specification.

“We call this process ‘Wellbriefing’,” explains Watson. “We’ve identified what we think are the important parameters that impact on wellbeing. These break down into a number of areas and we ask questions related to those topics. We don’t expect people to be environmental psychologists or building physicists – we ask them in ways that are quite day-to-day.”

The process starts with face-to-face sessions with building users. “We talk through the factors and explain the kinds of things that we will be considering in terms of wellbeing throughout the design development,” explains Paradise. “People don’t necessarily know what might affect them on a day-to-day basis, so giving them an overview of some of the parameters is important.”

Next, building users complete an interactive web-based survey. This allows respondents to answer questions and provide opinions in confidence. “Giving people the opportunity to complete the survey on their own is important,” says Paradise. “The psychology of being in a group that you might work with daily means you might not say how you actually feel about certain things. Providing a way to do that in private is beneficial and people value that opportunity.”

Survey findings reveal precisely what psychological and physiological factors are important for each cohort of building users. This information is then used to generate the building brief. “These metrics mean our architects, engineers and everybody involved in the project knows what is important in terms of the wellbeing of the users,” says Watson. “It’s about embedding wellbeing at a strategic level.”

Delivering change

Atkins is already putting its wellbeing know-how to work as part of the company’s design of the University of Bournemouth’s new Faculty of Health and Social Sciences. As well as focusing on users’ wellbeing, it’s helping architects develop plans to make the building as attractive as possible to the many different groups who will use it, including potential students and the wider community.

“The building is on a prominent site and it’s a significant investment for the university,” says Paradise. “The people working within it have health and wellbeing at the core of what they do, so the building really needs to embody these attributes. It’s an exciting opportunity for us.”

It’s not only new buildings that are benefiting from the growing focus on wellbeing – existing buildings can also be upgraded. “We have a client who has just procured an office building and has issues around the building not performing as it was meant to in terms of overheating and employee disturbance,” says Watson. “We’re going to roll out the Wellbriefing tool and use that as a way of retrospectively suggesting alterations to the spaces to satisfy the end users.”

Part of the Wellbriefing vision is to build a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t, with each new project adding to the body of accumulated knowledge. 

“One of the benefits of collating this in-depth information is that we can create benchmarks,” explains Paradise. “The way that we extract and analyse the data means that we can filter by role, so you can look at how different types of people respond because building users are not all the same. We’ll soon get to a point where we can compare across different organisations, building function and role types.”

Wellbriefing was initially developed to meet the needs of university clients seeking to improve the student experience. But the idea has rapidly gained traction across other sectors of Atkins’ business. The techniques can be applied in any area, from business and education to government departments.

Development of the Wellbriefing tool underlines the way that analytic technologies are unlocking new insights into the built environment, according to Stephen Bourne, project director, research & development programme chair at Atkins in North America, who points to another example of the firm’s work in this field: its Future Proofing Cities tool.

“This is a GIS-based platform used to simulate the impact of combined business/population growth, urbanisation, climate change and sea level rise on cities,” he explains. “Integration of the Wellbriefing and Future Proofing tools could pave the way for predictive models that reveal the true impact Wellbriefing can have on entire cities.”

Putting wellbeing at the heart of urban planning not only makes economic sense, but it is key to creating a lasting legacy.

“Everything Atkins does – whether that’s a new road link or a new building – is about people and their wellbeing,” says Watson. “As architects, we all want great edifices named after us, but what matters most is putting people first. This is a way of turning that into a reality.”

Click here to discover more about how Atkins is putting wellbeing at the heart of building design.

UK & Europe,

The road ahead

28 Apr 2016

Imagine a typical six-lane motorway. Now try to imagine what it would look like if you stripped away all the lane markings, all the barriers and all the signs. What you’d be left with is a blank swathe of tarmac – daunting for the human motorist maybe, but for driverless vehicles, raw road space like this could be the future. Instead of just six lanes, the no-frills motorway would be able to pack in 12 streams or more of self-driving traffic, with vehicles grouped at much higher densities – significantly increasing capacity.

Welcome to the future of roads – or at least one version of it. The idea of free space highways may seem far-fetched, but it highlights the questions now facing governments, infrastructure owners and road industry suppliers. What might a driverless future look like? And how do you make investment decisions about future infrastructure if you don’t know how it’s going to be used?

“At some point in the future, we will have driverless cars,” says Lesley Waud, market director for strategic highways with Atkins in the UK. “What I’m interested in – and what my clients are interested in – is how we get there. How long is it going to take and what are the stages on that journey?”

Change is coming. What’s complicating matters is that nobody really knows what form that change will take or how fast it will happen. “In the US, the roadmap to vehicle automation is often split between two camps of thinking, one projecting incremental change as automation features are gradually introduced by automakers; the other foreseeing revolutionary change driven by technology players and new mobility providers,” says Matt D’Angelo, vice president, Atkins in North America. “For the time being, the infrastructure planner’s point of view will likely need to be highly adaptable and flexible among this uncertainty.”

Exploring new avenues

Technology is already changing the way roads are used. The UK’s 'smart motorways' are an example. These are motorways in which the hard shoulder is no longer reserved for breakdowns but is instead used as an extra lane for traffic. Smart motorways are among the technologies that fall under the banner of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) – the name given to applications that make use of information and communication technologies to improve mobility.

Smart motorways rely on active traffic management. Traffic flow data is used to calculate the most appropriate speed for the volume of vehicles on the motorway and a variable speed limit is displayed. This eliminates stop-start cycles, cuts congestion and improves safety.

No matter how compelling the benefits, it takes time to get motorists acclimatised to new ways of using the road – a key consideration in the shift to automated vehicles. Understanding human behaviour is every bit as important as the underlying technology.

“You have to build public confidence,” stresses Waud. “We do a lot of work with human factors people to understand how the solutions we’re developing might be received by road users.”

Similar public acceptance issues have been critical to the operation of priced managed lanes in the US, also known as High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. “As prices are adjusted to manage demand, clear communication with the driver is critical to meet expectations about both the quality and price of the trip,” says D’Angelo.

Atkins is active across the road transport arena. In the UK, it is the lead partner in the Venturer consortium which is trialling autonomous vehicles in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. The firm is also leading the FLOURISH consortium, which was recently awarded a multi-million pound government research grant to develop user-centric autonomous vehicle technology. 

In the Middle East, the company is working extensively on ITS programmes in the United Arab Emirates and has advised Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.

“We provide design and operational services for road network control centres and network management. The focus is on enabling a consistent journey time, providing information to road users and improving safety,” explains Ian Machen, associate director, Atkins. “Our highways teams create the geometry for junction design and we create the methodology for the control of these junctions and road networks in terms of CCTV, variable message signs, flow information and signalised junctions.”

Soaring car ownership is fuelling major congestion problems in the Gulf region. In the Emirate of Dubai, for example, the number of cars on the road rose by nearly 30 per cent in the five years to 2013. Traffic snarl-ups are reckoned to cost the Dubai economy more than US$800m per year.

Smarter junctions help to ease the pressure. Dubai has about 500 signalised road junctions – the largest number in the UAE. “The first contract I managed in the region was for Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) to undertake a complete systems review of their control centre,” says Machen. “As part of that contract, we redesigned the way that ITS equipment worked on 17 junctions.”

New detection equipment was installed and intersections reconfigured to optimise performance. The redesigned system promotes “green waving: the ability to group vehicles into platoons and to ensure they hit every junction on green as they move across the city. 

“Since successfully delivering this with the RTA in Dubai, we’ve won a number of repeat contracts to enhance more junctions within the Emirate,” says Machen.

Urban traffic management systems of the sort used in Dubai depend on links between traffic signals, vehicle detectors and the central control system. The most efficient way to make these connections is using optical fibres. But in fast-growing cities, road networks often grow quicker than fibre networks. “You can either wait until the physical networks are available or go wireless,” says Machen. 

Wireless has two main attractions. One is that it reduces disruption – there’s no need to dig up the road. Another is that wireless can be deployed quickly. In the Emirate of Sharjah, which adjoins Dubai, Atkins has advised using a wireless mesh network which means faster ITS delivery.

“Sharjah will be rolling out a fibre network, but it all takes time,” says Machen. “We recommended a wireless mesh network. It allows them to connect their junctions online now and gives us better reliability than 3/4G on its own.”

Roads reimagined 

Technological advances are also opening up new ways of using roads. In France, the government’s ecology and energy minister, Ségolène Royal, recently announced plans to cover 1,000km of road with solar photovoltaic panels – potentially turning highways into linear power stations.

Solar collectors – just a few millimetres (a fraction of an inch) thick and with a gripping surface for traffic – are bonded to the road with no need for digging. One kilometre of adapted road could provide lighting for 5,000 people, the French government says. The product is known as Wattway and was developed by Colas. With more than one million kilometres of road, more than any other European nation, France is well-placed to benefit from such technology.

France’s solar highways underline a new willingness to challenge traditional ideas about road use. In North America, for example, a growing number of cities are adopting “complete streets” programmes to make urban roads accessible for all ages, abilities and modes of travel – not just cars. In the UK, meanwhile, the Atkins-designed diagonal crossing at London’s Oxford Circus has transformed the relationship between pedestrians and traffic.

Roads are evolving. But vehicles are evolving faster. From collision avoidance to parking assistance, modern vehicles incorporate ever-higher levels of automation. And they’re increasingly connected: according to Gartner, 250 million vehicles will have some sort of wireless connection by 2020.

Social trends, as much as technological ones, point the way to a future that is not only driverless, but potentially ownerless as well. The rise of ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft, the growth of personal contract purchase (PCP) and the fact that car ownership is no longer seen as a rite of passage all point to radically different types of road use. These trends are already underpinning the rise of new on-demand transport models such as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS).

While automated vehicles are some way off, technology now flooding into vehicles – including sat navs that display real-time traffic information – could have more immediate implications for road infrastructure.

“We rely on roadside signals at the moment,” says Waud. “But we’re going to move to a point where those signals are on the dashboard. That will reduce the need for infrastructure, along with the installation, operation and maintenance costs that go with it.”

The current direction of travel, as far as automation is concerned, remains in the hands of automotive manufacturers rather than governments. “Manufacturers are introducing technology because drivers want it,” notes Waud. “But in the longer term, demand by road network operators could also shape technology in vehicles.”

Governments have so far been content to sit on the fence as far as vehicle automation is concerned. That’s changing. In the US, the Department of Transportation recently announced plans to implement consistent self-driving laws across the country. “Some US states are taking a proactive approach in marketing their facilities and programs to be friendly to manufacturers and mobility innovators, such as the Colorado DOT through their RoadX program,” says D’Angelo. “We envision a shift in relationships and roles between the infrastructure provider and all stakeholders in the mobility value chain.”

Europe, meanwhile, will see the first government mandated in-car technology with eCall – an automatic crash notification system – become compulsory in new cars from 2018.

It’s still too early to judge exactly what impact driverless technology might have on the roadside. Some envisage the use of vehicle-to-infrastructure communications (V2I) to manage traffic while improving safety and reducing emissions. This would mean widespread deployments of dedicated short-range radio infrastructure and a need for new skill sets for infrastructure operators. Others foresee a world in which cars rely entirely on their own sensors. 

Whatever happens, governments and road operators are unlikely to relinquish central supervision – particularly on strategic urban and national networks.

“There’s a security side to this,” emphasises Machen. “If there’s any disruption, connected cars will try to re-route themselves. Network owners need to know what’s going on because this can have a wider impact on the city and the ability to deploy emergency services. It’s about information share.”

Deciding who gets access that information – and how they use it – is likely to prove every bit as challenging as perfecting the driverless technology itself.


For more information on MaaS, you can download our white paper, Journeys of the Future, written by the UK Transportation’s intelligent mobility team at Atkins here.

To continue the discussion on Intelligent Mobility, please join our dedicated LinkedIn Group.

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At a building site deep in the French countryside, the dream of clean, limitless energy is accelerating towards reality. Cadarache, 35 miles north east of Marseille, is home to the ITER site, which will be the biggest experimental nuclear fusion reactor in the world when it is complete.

“Fusion is almost a perfect form of energy: limitless, safe and clean,” says Dave Whitmore, director of nuclear projects with Atkins. “This project resonates with our vision to improve lives through nuclear energy and to take on the hardest technical challenges to help our clients deliver projects at an affordable cost.”

Since 2010, Atkins has been part of the evolution of the ITER site, providing architect engineer services as part of the Engage consortium, with Assystem, Egis and Empresarios Agrupados. This international collaboration stems from a contract signed between Fusion For Energy (F4E), the EU organisation managing Europe's contribution to ITER, and the Engage consortium for the architect engineer aspects of the project.

The work covers the design of the buildings and construction coordination. The scope of the project is vast: Atkins and its partners are delivering 39 buildings and associated infrastructure, including the 10,000-square metre complex that encloses the “tokamak” – the mammoth 23,000-tonne reactor at the heart of the experiment. It is the most complex machine on earth.

“We’re working on the tokamak right now,” says David Knoyle of Atkins, who heads the Nuclear Buildings team for Engage. “The work includes everything from the design of heavy cranes and nuclear shielding doors to cargo lifts for moving nuclear material safely around the building.”



Turning up the heat

ITER is engineering in its most extreme form. In order for fusion to take place, the temperature inside the tokamak must reach 150 million degrees centigrade – ten times hotter than the core of the sun. Triggering a nuclear fusion reaction – which is calculated to produce 500MW of thermal power – requires the injection of 50MW of heating power.

Designing for this environment demands special skills and the ability to unravel complex problems. Buildings need to safely accommodate a vast array of pipework and cables, as well as numerous embedments – thousands of plates pre-positioned in the walls, floors and ceilings, which act as fixing points for heavy equipment. Everything must be positioned with pinpoint precision before any concrete is poured.

This is a demanding task. At ITER, buildings and the equipment within them are intimately linked, but in some cases, buildings must be completed before the designs for the machines that will go inside them have been finalised. The tokamak reactor is a case in point. This will be housed in a vast reinforced concrete structure known as the bioshield. With a final height of 30 metres and massive walls up to 3.2 metres thick, there’s little chance to alter anything once the concrete has set.

“We know exactly what shape the tokamak will be, but designs for the services and pipework that lead into and out of it are still being finalised elsewhere,” explains Knoyle. “One of our skills as designers is to accommodate this uncertainty by providing options for the way pipes are routed through the building so the risk of conflict when the reactor is installed is minimised.”

Good design is not only about strength, economy and flexibility, but also buildability. Success hinges on designers and contractors working together at every stage. To eliminate potential construction snags, the team first built a mock-up of part of the bioshield structure.

“The mock-up gave us a good idea of how complicated it was to install the reinforcement detailing and allowed the contractor to put forward proposals for slight modifications,” says Knoyle. “It also allowed the contractor to do a trial run of some of the key embedments and to prove that the concrete mix would flow correctly between all the embedments and reinforcements.”

Arriving at the final design for the bioshield was by no means straightforward. The tokamak sits within a huge vacuum enclosure known as the cryostat – a stainless steel refrigeration chamber that weighs nearly 4,000 tonnes. Support for this is provided by the cryostat ring, a vital element which provides a mechanical interface between the cryostat, the tokamak and the building’s anti-seismic foundations.

The initial designs specified that the cryostat ring would be supported on a ring of steel columns. But just over a year into the project in 2011, the Fukushima disaster struck.

“Fukushima underlined the need for structures to be able to withstand the combination of multiple accidental events,” explains Gauthier Stiegler, civil engineer at Atkins. “Additional safety margins and new load combinations meant that the design had to be modified. This was a highly complex task.”

The solution was to replace the steel columns with a concrete crown incorporating a ring of buttresses to provide extra support and spread the loads more evenly through the structure. Atkins was able to draw on its engineering know-how from other fields – including expertise in pre-stressed concrete design provided by the firm’s bridge experts – to support the feasibility studies and detailed design.

“On a project of this sort, you have to be flexible,” emphasises Stiegler. “You have to accept that, although you have been working on something for six months, you might have to go back and change the designs in response to new information. This capability is vital in a first-of-a-kind project such as ITER because it’s evolving as research develops.”

Atkins’ role at ITER is also evolving as work moves from design into construction: “Now that we have contractors on site digging and pouring concrete, the focus is on making sure that everything is kept on schedule and that contractors have all the information they need to get the job done safely,” says Knoyle.

To ensure construction proceeds according to plan, Engage has introduced building delivery managers and leads to supervise and coordinate work across the multiple contractors. One place in which expert supervision is proving invaluable is in the delivery of the huge Assembly Building. This vast, custom-made workshop is where the reactor and vacuum vessel will be pre-assembled ready for installation in the neighbouring Tokamak Complex.

“There are three principal contractors involved with that,” says Knoyle. “The role of the building delivery lead is to focus on making sure all the interfaces are achieved. The remit is to make sure that designs are delivered on schedule so that the contractors can complete their work and the building can be handed over to the client on time.”

Expanding horizons

Atkins has always worked closely with its partners and it is working closely with the world’s leading nuclear companies such as Areva and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) on a range of opportunities in the UK and globally, including ITER.

Atkins, Areva, CGN and another of Atkins’ close collaborators, the construction management specialist, Mace, have formed the Helios consortium to bid for the role of construction managing agent (CMA) at ITER.

“We’re investing in this because we see fusion as something we can bring real value to,” says Whitmore.

The CMA will support ITER in the appointment of contractors and in managing the installation and commissioning work needed to prepare the plant for full-scale fusion experiments. The mix of partners in the consortium reflects Atkins’ strategic commitment to forging stronger links with nuclear companies in countries such as France and China.

Atkins’ deep involvement at ITER underlines the company’s commitment to nuclear energy. The firm is active in the global nuclear arena in areas including nuclear safety, regulatory compliance and licensing in the United States, advising the nuclear energy programme in the United Arab Emirates and design work on nuclear new build projects in the UK, including Hinkley Point C. Atkins recently announced plans to acquire EnergySolutions’ Projects, Products and Technology (PP&T) business to extend its reach even further into the specialist decommissioning and waste management technology arena.

Atkins has deep roots in the nuclear industry. The company’s involvement stretches back to 1954 with its work to support the UK’s nuclear research establishments. Atkins provided design and construction management for the world’s first commercial nuclear power station at Berkeley in the UK, completed in 1955.

Today, more than 60 years later, Atkins’ experts are working on decommissioning the same plant – highlighting the company’s ability to provide services throughout the nuclear life cycle.

The company is expanding its nuclear capabilities to meet global demand for nuclear new build. Finding ways to reduce risk and make programmes more affordable is a priority. One way is to adopt a systems engineering approach including BIM (building information modelling) right from the start of major projects. This makes it possible for multidisciplinary teams anywhere in the world to work together on a single, shared design model that incorporates every detail.

While this approach is currently a rarity in the nuclear field – as it is in most other areas of construction – Atkins has already done it: “We’re not just preaching, we’re actually doing it,” stresses Whitmore.

In the case of the silos direct-encapsulation plant project at Sellafield in the UK, Atkins and its joint venture partners Areva (France) and Mace (UK) created a systems engineering infrastructure with integrated electronic tools.

“This was the first nuclear project on the cloud,” notes Whitmore. “We went through the mobilisation of that project and actually got these tools working. We know how to do it.”

“Our commitment to the digital agenda and our ability to apply systems engineering approaches with a clear governance focus means we have a lot to bring to ITER,” says Whitmore. “This goes beyond the buildings: it’s about bringing systems engineering to the heart of the project – to the tokamak itself.”

Pictures: Credit © © ITER Organization,

UK & Europe, Group,

Passenger numbers on the UK rail network climbed to a record high in 2015 with travellers clocking up a record 1.6 billion journeys. Demand for rail shows no signs of slowing: at current growth rates, the journey total is set to hit the three billion mark within 15 years and those extra journeys – around 1.3 million per week – will need to be accommodated within the existing network.

Britain is not the only country where demand is on the rise. France and Germany are also witnessing growth, with passenger kilometres up around 20 per cent over the last ten years. Luxembourg, meanwhile, has seen the biggest increase, with demand rising by more than 60 per cent. To help cater for this, the French government is investing €15 billion in renewals and capacity upgrades, while Germany has earmarked €28 billion for rail modernisation over the next four years.

Birth of the digital railway

Catering for such an upsurge presents big challenges – how can operators set about squeezing more out of networks that are already stretched to the limit? Ambitious plans for new railways – from Crossrail and HS2 in the UK to the Tours-Bordeaux high speed line in France and Switzerland’s trans-Alpine Gotthard Base Tunnel – will ease the pressure but more needs to be done in the long term.

Shifting to a “digital railway” model could be the answer. The concept, developed by the UK’s rail infrastructure owner Network Rail, is a railway in which everything – from signalling to trains, infrastructure and ticketing – is managed digitally with the aim of boosting capacity, efficiency and the customer experience. And it has the capability to change the way railways are designed and planned around the world.

“It shakes to the core the existing working practices and methods that the industry has relied upon for the past 180 years,” says Ben Dunlop, director of Digital Railway at Atkins. “And it challenges almost every facet of the industry.”

According to Dunlop, delivering the digital railway is not only about new technology, but also new attitudes.

“The global rail industry struggles with innovation and rarely embraces technology quickly. It tends to stay with what it knows and keeps itself going based on its traditional thinking rather than looking to the future,” he says.

Signalling is a case in point. In addition to guaranteeing safety, signalling governs capacity. Yet most conventional signalling simply replicates the 19th century “block” system – the principle of distance separation between trains based on fixed geographical points. Because the speed of each individual train is not taken into account, gaps between trains on the same stretch of track are often much bigger than they need to be. The result is lost capacity.

This is not the only limitation. Conventional interlocking, the safety critical “brains” of the railway, cannot easily be re-purposed to meet changing needs. This will increase the costs of implementing the next generation of signalling known as European Rail Traffic Management System/ European Train Control System (ERTMS/ETCS) Level 2 – a high-performance digital system that will soon be standard for new schemes.

“Generally, the signalling technology we have today is late 20th century at best – most of it is far older. It hasn’t really moved on,” says Dunlop. “If you think about the speed at which digital data, software and microprocessors have evolved, and what you can do now compared to what you could do then, we’re miles apart.”

Delivering the digital railway

Intelligent signalling is urgently needed. In the UK, Atkins worked with Network Rail’s heads of signalling to pinpoint exactly what was essential: “They gave us a list of requirements. We then set about identifying and developing a suitable interlocking product to navigate into the UK market. That product is now ready,” says Dunlop.

The new interlocking module differs from its predecessors in a number of important ways. First, it’s future proof and smarter.

“The product works not only in a conventional signalling setup, but also in an ERTMS/ETCS Level 2 environment and beyond,” says Dunlop. “You can connect it to the internet, so you have a signalling system that you can remotely analyse through an IP network. For the first time, maintenance teams will know about signalling problems before the operator does.”

Meeting the rising demand for rail will require big changes in just about every facet of operations. But can those changes be delivered quickly enough? And is it really possible to deliver change on the massive scale required while minimising risk?

One nation with experience in this arena is Denmark. The national rail infrastructure owner – Banedanmark – is now midway through a ground breaking modernisation programme to replace every signal, level crossing and signal box in the country – the first re-signalling scheme to cover an entire country.

The system chosen as a replacement – ERTMS/ETCS Level 2 – underlines the gains that can be made by switching from analogue to digital technology. Among the benefits are extra capacity, improved reliability and lower operating costs. The system uses cab signalling, so there’s a dramatic reduction in lineside equipment.

There are wider benefits. Data generated by the system assists in building new capabilities such as conflict resolution – the ability to predict and prevent snarl ups. Energy savings are possible through better scheduling.

Swift and seamless delivery is a priority. To ensure this, test labs are used to check everything before installation, minimising the need for engineering shut downs. And the customer and suppliers share office space, maximising the opportunities for teamwork.

Atkins is providing multi-disciplinary signalling expertise for the Denmark project and is now working with Norway’s national rail administrator, Jernbaneverket, on a similar nationwide scheme.

Intelligent signalling is the bedrock of the digital railway because it improves fluidity and capacity. But as well as transforming the way railways are operated, digital technology has a decisive part to play in the way new infrastructure is built.

BIM – Building Information Modelling – is one example. BIM is a collaborative three-dimensional tool that is used not only to create designs, but also to assist in the procurement, construction and maintenance of assets. In short, BIM provides digital lifetime support for infrastructure.

The Crossrail tunnelling project in London was one of the first major infrastructure schemes where BIM was used effectively in the UK. And BIM is integral to the design and delivery of the UK’s rail electrification programme where Atkins has created its own automatic electrification design tool over the last three years. Furthermore, Atkins has been in collaboration with industry partners to deliver an Innovate UK funded project to Digitally Enable Electrification (DEE) to bring the project lifecycle of an electrification scheme into the digital age.

“We have been leading the agenda on BIM in certain areas of the railway and we’ve seen significant production increases as a result,” says Dunlop.

In the long term, the rise of intelligent infrastructure is likely to help improve the reliability of assets and reduce costs. Remote condition monitoring based on predictive analytics is already a reality. This allows maintainers to predict problems with vital equipment – such as point motors – before they go wrong.

But this is just the start, believes Dunlop: “There is a good chance that in the future, we will see physical infrastructure being constructed out of materials that have a far greater level of connectivity and self-analysis.”

The rise of advanced composites with self-sensing capabilities – such as fibre-reinforced plastics and smart concrete – paves the way to bringing buildings, bridges, tunnels, retaining walls and even the track itself under the digital umbrella.

“Routine maintenance and inspection would no longer mean shutting the railway down,” says Dunlop. “It’s about building a railway that is data intensive rather than labour intensive.”

Allied with this will be the ability to gain insights from the deluge of data generated by smart assets. “There’s an opportunity for organisations that have strong domain knowledge, understand how assets need to work and have expertise to add value with data analytics.”

Changing trains

Making the digital railway a reality will require root and branch reform of the industry, stresses Dunlop. “While technology is the enabler, business change is probably the most significant part of the digital railway,” he says.

An integrated approach to business change will be needed that spans planning, building, operating and maintaining the infrastructure as well as the train services that run on it.

The need for change is complicated by shifts in the balance of power between train operators and infrastructure owners. In part, this is because the advent of cab signalling means intelligence (and hardware) is migrating away from the trackside and onto the trains themselves.

This process is likely to gain momentum as high-capacity ERTMS/ETCS Level 3 signalling comes in prospect. The costs associated with train control will shift decisively from infrastructure providers to train operators.

Improvements in the reliability of infrastructure can only be good news for the industry.

“What would a zero delay railway look like?” asks Dunlop. With no delay compensation payments to operators and much lower levels of customer dissatisfaction, does that increase or decrease the attraction for private operators to invest in their services? The answer should be increase but in the somewhat opaque world of revenue apportionment and delay attribution it might not be so clear cut.

One thing is for sure, argues Dunlop: the improved customer experience would set expectations to a very high level, and that positive pressure could only drive increased collaboration and efficiency.

Dunlop also questions whether the current regulatory regime is the right one to promote a truly digital railway.

“The legal and commercial framework we have now was set up in the early 1990s when passenger numbers were declining,” he says. “Twenty years on, rail is a growth engine. Is the existing framework an enabler or a blocker?”

Devolution could also jeopardise the digital railway: “If you lost the ability to drive policy from a national perspective, you could end up in a situation where delivering a digital railway could be almost impossible,” he adds.

Despite the headwinds, Dunlop is optimistic about the prospects for a digital railway – provided the strategic steer is right.

“Success hinges on linking everything to the customer experience, so it needs to be easier for train operators and freight operators to contribute – not just the infrastructure operator,” observes Dunlop.

“The programme should probably be split out from Network Rail and given a landing point somewhere it can act as a policy driver. That would be the best enabler the digital railway could have.”

To find out more about how Atkins is helping its clients to shape the future of transportation at this year's InnoTrans, visit the Speakers’ Corner (Hall 15.2) at 11.30am on Wednesday 21 September and come to stand 225A, CityCube A to speak to one of its consultants.

Digital railway revolution LinkedIn group

UK & Europe,

The UK’s current rail electrification programme is the biggest ever carried out in Britain. Over the next eight years (source), more than 2,000 miles of track will go under the wires, with efficient and environmentally-friendly electric traction replacing traditional diesel power. 

The scale of the project is huge and the routes being electrified are among the busiest in the country. Atkins is the lead design organisation for the electrification of the Great Western main line and is providing engineering design services in the Northwest, West Midlands and Scotland through a National Electrification Programme Framework contract. The Midland main line between Bedford and Sheffield is also being delivered under the framework. 

Electrification on this scale presents a number of challenges. Thousands of masts, portals and cantilevers are required to support the all-important network of overhead wires that deliver power to trains. All of this equipment must be designed, procured, built, commissioned and maintained – a process which requires workflow management not only within but between organisations. 

Then there’s the challenge of working across a site that is, in effect, hundreds of miles in length. Disruption to the operational railway must be kept to a minimum, so meticulous planning is needed to make the most of limited “possessions” – blocks of time when passenger and freight services are stopped to give contractors access to carry out the work. Equally important is the ability to work efficiently in a safety critical environment. 

There are wider systemic challenges too. In common with other branches of engineering, electrification projects are hampered by the limited supply of skilled and experienced engineers. Finding ways to improve productivity is a priority. 

Digitally enabling electrification 

To tackle some of these problems, Atkins and lead partner Laing O’Rourke conceived the Digitally Enabling Electrification (DEE) project. To ensure access to a wider range of specialist skills and knowledge we teamed up with software specialists dhp11 and Imperial College London. 

The aim is to make digital technology a viable and cost-saving solution for electrification; an objective achieved primarily through the adoption of open standards for the exchange of data. The project builds on Atkins’ established expertise in 3D Building Information Modelling (BIM). 

DEE was selected as one of 11 funding winners under the “Enabling the Digital Railway” initiative co-funded by the government’s innovation agency Innovate UK and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB).

 At the core of the project is understanding how electrification projects can help deliver the Government’s BIM Strategy and become a key component of Network Rail’s Digital Railway programme. 

“We carried out a review of the existing landscape and concluded that while major design and build suppliers have their own bespoke systems, these cannot easily share data with other systems,” says Ray Dudding, who has been leading BIM and Digital Systems for Atkins in the Rail Sector. “This makes it difficult for different organisations to work together on a large scale project.”  

In common with some other design organisations, Atkins has developed its own digital electrification design system over the last 15 years. This has helped to drive internal efficiencies and has delivered benefits to customers, including multi-million pound savings in design. 

In tandem with this, Laing O’Rourke has been leading the construction industry in digital engineering, championing the Design for Manufacture & Assembly (DfMA) process. This allows the company to create structures in a factory environment, minimising time on site, as well as reducing cost and risk. 

Digital design tools deliver huge internal efficiencies, but problems can arise at the points of contact between different organisations working on the same project. This is because data cannot always be shared easily between different design systems. 

“The irony is that even when using its internal automated design BIM system, Atkins would still be contracted to hand over a pile of traditional paper and PDF outputs to the constructor,” says Dudding. “Imagine being at the trackside in the rain trying to make sense of the systems design from a stack of paper, or even scrolling through multiple dumb files on a tablet?” 

In order to make use of an Atkins design, for example, Laing O’Rourke would need to manually re-input information from paper to ensure the data was in a usable format for its own systems. 

“The priority was to come up with an open standard where any designer, manufacturer and constructor could share data,” says Dudding. 

The solution – known as OLEDEF – is the first of its kind to provide an open format for the design of overhead line systems for rail electrification. It uses a standard XML (Extensible Markup Language) format that offers the widest compatibility, so anyone using BIM can benefit. 

What’s more, it’s compatible with work done by Network Rail on a signalling-specific schema using the same markup language – paving the way for greater rail-specific design integration as the BIM industry matures. 

A common data environment 

With the right data format in place, the next step was to optimise workflows. Building on government leadership, the team focused on incorporating PAS 1192 – the code of practice for the collaborative production of engineering and construction information.  All parties develop models with the level of detail relevant to their stage of the lifecycle.   Models and data can then be shared in the common data environment. 

“We have had to answer questions around how our work fits into the typical workflow,” explains Dudding. “We have considered how the common data environment can be applied in design and manufacturing management systems, then how this can be extended into product lifecycle management systems.” 

While a research-based approach was an essential starting point, a demonstration was needed to show how digital techniques could solve real-world problems. In the case of electrification, challenges include reducing the time needed on-site during possessions and minimising the risk of overruns.  

“We found that the Precision Build DfMA techniques we are championing would hit problems unless we found a solution to one particular issue: that it is not possible to guarantee the accurate positioning of the foundations on which the overhead line structures were constructed,” says Dudding.   

Although considerable effort has been put into improving this process in recent years, time is still lost because of the need to adjust overhead line equipment to compensate for variations in the position of foundations. This leads to higher costs and the risk of over runs.  

A trial was set up to demonstrate that digital technology could assist in reducing the time needed to implement a system both when the foundation is accurately placed, and also when the foundation is not positioned as designed. 

Technologies evaluated included point cloud, photogrammetry and LIDAR with traditional surveying acting as a baseline. The means of capturing the survey data were also considered. These included drones, road-rail vehicles, surveyors, trackside personnel and even satellite imagery.  

A number of options were discounted before inviting the leading suppliers to a technology trial at the Network Rail test track at Tuxford in Nottinghamshire. Each supplier first surveyed the piles, then a variety of different types of structure were erected, which the suppliers surveyed. The survey results from all of the suppliers are now being assessed. 

By establishing schema for open data transfers, mapping a path to greater collaborative working and combining new surveying technologies with advanced BIM techniques, the DEE project has already proven its worth. But it’s not just railway electrification schemes that will feel the benefit. “The work we are doing will also be of interest to people in the wider BIM, engineering, information management and construction arenas,” stresses Dudding. 

Atkins and partners are hosting a DEE demonstration day at the National Railway Museum in York in January 2016. To find out more, please contact Sonia Chandi.

Asia Pacific, Group, Middle East & Africa, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Estimates from the World Green Building Council show that buildings are not only responsible for 40% of global energy use and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, but the resources that go into constructing them absorb 32% of the world’s resources. So the potential for the built environment to make savings in terms of energy and carbon is therefore huge and something that world leaders in Paris at the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP) conference will be aware of as they work on achieving a legally binding, universal agreement which aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

“Paris is important to re-establish ambitions towards better performance of buildings,” says Julian Sutherland, director for environmentally sustainable design at Atkins, explaining that achieving better buildings starts in the early stages. The success of “low energy or low carbon is really around the quality of design. We know what we need to do and there is strong collaboration between informed clients, experienced design teams and good contractors. When everyone operates in their sweet spot, we see great solutions.”

A critical component of this is focussing on building performance rather than compliance with metrics, as set out in building regulations. “We need to understand total energy more regularly than we do at the moment. We need a better understanding of how buildings really do perform and joining up the life cycle of buildings in terms of operation and design to make it much more predictable and understand the choices that we are making,” he says.

Important as they are, building regulations tend to only cover regulated energy which is a relatively small part of total consumption. “It is concerned with the electricity, heating or gas used to create the environment. It doesn’t take into account any of the internal equipment like computers, catering equipment or anything operational.”

The only way to accurately ensure that a building is truly running at optimal efficiency is to model the total energy use which can be four or five times more than the regulated figure. “It is all about knowing what the right numbers are. If you look at regulated energy when you are making decisions about renewable energy and sustainable solutions you are only looking at a very small part of consumption so how can those decisions be the right ones?” asks Sutherland.

For building owners this means taking a long term view on how the building will be used, what will be inside it, when will people arrive and leave and daily occupancy levels. “In order for clients to understand the consequences of their building they have to get into this stuff and understand it. It means more focus on asset management and how to own operate and deliver these facilities in a professional way,” says Sutherland.

Louise Sunderland of the UK Green Building Council, of which Atkins is a member, agrees with taking a more outcome focussed approach. “Of course regulations have a large influencing factor on all professionals in the supply chain however that needs to be balanced with the real world perspective because we are designing buildings for people to live and work in,” she says explaining that that unregulated energy is becoming an increasing proportion of the total energy used and the fact that this is currently not a requirement of the building regulations means that the performance gap between actual energy use and that expected according to the regulations can be wide.

Abstract as this might sound Atkins’ Sutherland points to a very real example of a new build office project that has modelled total energy use to ensure that it is as sustainable as possible. It is set to have an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of ‘A’, score ‘Excellent’ according to the BREEAM ratings scheme, and just as importantly create a healthy environment that promotes the wellbeing of staff and visitors. The project is Atkins’ own historic UK headquarters in Epsom, Surrey. “The design is unique while fusing pretty standard technologies and solutions but putting together in a really smart way to make it low energy, high performance great environment for our staff,” says Sutherland.

The new building will house around 1,000 workstations for Atkins’ staff and the modern flexible working space replaces the original office block built in 1962. Designed to accommodate working practices of the time with large drawing boards dominating the spaces, the existing building was struggling to keep pace with modern demands. “There were no computers in those days, it is single glazed, there is very little insulation and there were some significant maintenance issues to overcome."

“We worked really closely with the Local Authority to identify a location on our site which is quite big, for a new building carefully designed to meet all of the neighbours, stakeholders and the Local Authority’s own requirements. So it is a very sensitive building,” says Sutherland who acted as the technical adviser on the project

Planning permission for the high quality design was unanimously approved and as Sutherland explains it embraces simplicity to ensure the most cost effective and sustainable outcomes. “We want reliable, simple, practical solutions as those are the ones that work,” says Sutherland explaining that this starts by ensuring that the orientation of the building is such that it maximises solar gain, daylight and promotes natural ventilation. Chilled ceilings reduce the need for cooling in the summer and the façade performance is “fantastic” says Sutherland. “All of the systems and components are working together to provide an environment that is appropriate for our staff and visitors to the site.”

Providing a healthy environment is another important aspect of the project, and sustainable buildings in general. In its “Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices” report the World Building Council finds that strategies to maximise health, wellbeing and productivity are compatible, and often enhanced, by strategies to minimise energy and resource use. For example it shows that improvements in air quality can lead to an 8 to 11% improvement in productivity by staff. “It is the users that will tell us whether the building works or not. What do the users see, hear, experience, feel and want? Energy and carbon all links in to work on health and wellbeing,” says Louise Sunderland, pointing out that to really ensure that buildings become more sustainable a culture shift among building owners, facilities managers and users is needed to ensure that the technical possibilities are being taken up. This can be incentivised by government policy she says. “The best thing we could possibly get from the COP is international certainty to provide absolute backstops and with those in place it is up to each country to figure out the best way to meet those obligations.”

Such “backstops” would essentially be carbon emission limits aimed at keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees. Louise Sunderland says that the targets set from this by individual governments should be science based and these would ultimately give more certainty to businesses in the green energy sector.

For the built environment sector to effectively reduce carbon from buildings, more transparency and accuracy on the actual performance of buildings is needed. “For example, there have been calls for a Kilowatt hours per square metre (kWh/m2) measure to be included in part of the compliance regime,” says Louise Sunderland. This would begin to enable the benchmarking of buildings and enable owners to compare actual performance to design figures.

In the absence of performance based regulation, industry has been taking the lead as astute companies make the connection between better design and better performance. “Our design is based around life cycle costs and finance mechanisms for 25 years,” says Sutherland of Atkins’ new building “We have managed to produce a design that will match with our agile working processes and it represents better value for us,” he says.

Life cycle costing is a critical aspect of the process and as Sutherland points out investing more in a high quality design that includes total energy use modelling means that for a small increment of additional investment cost at design stage, total operational savings are exponentially realised. This is something that is being recognised increasingly in the commercial sector says Louise Sunderland, but the absence of policy mechanisms to encourage this further is limiting growth in the sector and is something that both Sutherland and Sunderland hope will change following the Paris climate conference.

But regardless of the policy situation sustainable buildings are more cost effective buildings and the volume of organisations that are recognising this is increasing. For those about to embark upon the creation of a new building Sutherland has some words of advice. “Think carefully about what you want the building to do and the team that you are bringing together to actually try and solve that problem. There are lots of ways of producing a sustainable building. It is about putting it together to get the best solution for your requirements,” he says. “Make informed decisions, get good advice and match your team to your ambition.”

UK & Europe,

How is the smart city movement, and technology more broadly impacting the way we plan our cities and urban infrastructure today? 

Cities are the crucible of economic and social progress. But with urban populations swelling by more than one million every week, they are also the focus of enormous pressures. Overcrowding, congestion and poor air quality are all daily reminders that today’s megacities continue to exact a high toll from those who live in them. The need for new solutions is clear. 

Since 2012, McKinsey & Company’s Global Infrastructure Initiative has convened the world’s most senior leaders in infrastructure from across the value chain for a focused discussion about the future of infrastructure. Atkins CEO, Uwe Krueger has been at the centre of these discussions and recently attended the 2015 gathering in San Francisco which focused on “disruptive new delivery models” to help tackle the challenges of urbanisation. 

Tackling these challenges will require not only new infrastructure, but also new ways to get more out of existing infrastructure. Technology holds the key. From big data to the internet of things, infrastructure planners are increasingly tapping into “smart city” methodologies to create attractive, future-proof cities. 

“Smart cities are on the rise around the world,” says Prof Dr Uwe Krueger, Atkins’ chief executive officer. “Technology is rapidly making infrastructure planning and city development for these cities more efficient by facilitating greater interaction between city infrastructure and enhancing our ability to better manage resources. 

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is a case in point. MaaS evaluates every transport option and presents the results to the traveller via smartphone. The emphasis is on getting from A to B, rather than favouring on any particular mode of transport. 

MaaS is a platform, not just a journey planner. For example, by linking it with a hospital appointments system and transport data, it has the potential not only to help a patient to plan a journey to hospital (and remind them to turn up), but would let the hospital know of any delays so it could reallocate resources. Missed appointments in the UK currently waste more than £160m a year. 

MaaS is just one way that many smart city initiatives meet multiple needs and make the most of components – such as smartphones – that already exist. 

Building smarter cities 

While we’re planning for a future in which smart cities can flourish, we mustn’t forget the lessons of the past. Rome, as they say, was not built in a day. It was the built over time, with careful governance, major investment in public infrastructure as well as ports and road systems to promote trade, among other things. As with Rome, careful governance and long-term planning will be fundamental to that process. 

“Today’s cities are economic powerhouses, generating more than 80 per cent of global GDP but resource scarcity, climate change, food risk, energy shortage and ecosystem damage are growing concerns,” says Prof Dr Krueger. “City resilience is key: they will have to adapt and evolve to better manage their resources, infrastructure and human capital. And that resilience needs to be built fundamentally into the planning process – what we at Atkins call ‘future-proofing cities’.” 

Public spaces will become increasingly critical as urban populations continue to swell encroach on the health and wellbeing of citizens. Atkins’ work on a cohesive public space strategy in Pereira, Columbia, as well as the sustainable city masterplan created for Meixi Lake in China, reflect these concerns.

Smart is not only about planning – it’s also about how that infrastructure is delivered, with minimal disruption. For example, using lightweight composites instead of steel and concrete means bridges and gantries can now be installed in a matter of hours rather than weeks or months. Composite structures don’t rust, so long-term maintenance costs are reduced. Complex manufacturing is carried out off-site, so quality and safety are improved. 

The additional capital cost required to achieve all of this is offset by lower operating costs and fewer long-term concerns. This approach to planning is essential if we are to take full advantage of smart city potential. 

Future proofing resilience 

More than 50 per cent of the world’s population now living in cities – a proportion that is set to rise to 75 per cent within 40 years. The demographic breakdown of some economies reveals a far greater percentage of older citizens, while in others the proportion of young is much higher. The need to find the right, well-balanced plan for the long-term health and happiness of citizens is growing ever more urgent. 

“Cities are competing for residents, businesses and investment,” says Prof Dr Krueger. “Infrastructure must provide for these needs – liveable spaces, fast broadband, good transport systems. They must also retain a strong sense of self and local culture to help attract talent.” 

The city of Shangrao in China is an example. Working with the Planning and Design Institute of Nanjing University, Beijing Branch, Atkins created the blueprints for the city’s new eco-friendly, low-carbon, high-speed rail district, which will eventually be home to 130,000 people. Rather than ignoring its surroundings, the masterplan seeks to capitalise on the region’s culture, history and green space to create an attractive and liveable environment. 

“Infrastructure must provide for these needs with liveable spaces, fast broadband and an agreeable legal and regulatory environment,” says Krueger. “While understanding that they are competing internationally, cities must retain a strong sense of self and local culture to help attract talent.” 

“The sooner cities take steps to future proof their urban development, the better,” he continues. “There is an important – but closing – window of opportunity for many cities to act now before they are locked into unsustainable and unsuitable development pathways.” 

This is true for both the long-term growth of a city as well as its overall resilience when facing the prospect of major catastrophes – a problem that besets both developed and developing countries. 

Understanding the interdependencies of a city is key to resilience. We need to develop capabilities to respond to the risks and challenges of the next century and beyond,” says Krueger. That means taking a holistic view of threats we face – physical, technical, human and administrative – in order to reduce any gaps in security and reduce our collective vulnerability. 

Paying for a smart city 

It’s all well and good to suggest that all cities should strive to be “smart” but historically, governments have been more inclined to fund new assets rather that allocating public budgets to operations and maintenance. This risks leaving them vulnerable in the long run, argues Krueger.  

“Appropriate financing structures are essential,” he says. “Cities should focus their economic policy on better funding for infrastructure, operations and maintenance.” 

The rise of citiesThe US city of Atlanta faces an infrastructure backlog of more than $900 million. Mayor Kasim Reed has made a commitment to address the city's infrastructure funding challenges and is proposing an innovative infrastructure bond referendum to pay for repairs and improvements. 

Mayor Reed and the City Council asked Atlanta voters to approve $250 million in the bond vote to address one quarter of the problem immediately. This $250 million investment will be the single-largest investment in the City’s infrastructure in more than a decade, and will result in clear and measurable improvements in the look, feel and experience of Atlanta for residents and visitors alike. 

Tianjin in China has managed this well. It has implemented measures to maximise existing assets through the expansion of intelligent transport systems and the integration of land use and transport planning. Careful asset management could pay dividends for generations to come.” 

This will become even more important with the rise of so-called “mega cities” – those with a total population over ten million. The United Nations estimate that there will be 37 of them by 2025 – up from two in 1950. As a consequence, by 2050, water demand is projected to increase by 55 per cent, energy by 80 per cent and food by 60 per cent. These resource-demand challenges will be acutely felt in cities where the emerging middle classes will be the primary consumers. 

“In India, the urban population is forecast to increase to 814 million by 2050 – that’s equivalent to one Delhi per year, for the next 35 years!” says Krueger. “Heavily populated cities such as these require a careful balance of physical infrastructure, strategies, systems and emergency services.” 

By connecting infrastructure systems, city planners can make make huge environmental, economic and social impacts. Companies supporting infrastructure development need to become more joined up and see that this nexus of critical resources – water, energy and food – as an opportunity. 

The key is to stop thinking about an “end state” city plan, as though it will one day be “finished” – “Plans need to be made not in three dimensions but four, to include time. This must reflect not just the initial development of a city but its flexible evolution and regeneration.” 

The notion of a flexible city is evident in Karamay, in China’s far northwest Xinjiang province. The previously oil dependent city is pursuing a policy of diversification, and becoming a vibrant, varied place to live, attracting new talent and offering a much broader range of social, economic and cultural resources. An Atkins-designed Cloud Computing Industry Park is central to this transformation. 

“We need to be guided by history,” concludes Krueger. “Fifty years ago, the technocratic movement in urban planning held sway and predicted that everything about a city was knowable and could be modelled top down. This turned out not be the case. We need to recognise that the city is complex – a self-organising system of systems. Our role as planners is to mediate and coordinate, rather than control and dictate, in order to create the truly smart cities we’ll need for the future.”

Asia Pacific, Group, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

The stratospheric rise of the use of BIM in the design, construction and operation of infrastructure, buildings and other assets has changed the way that project teams work together, demanding new levels of collaboration. “When you are using BIM to its fullest extent you really need the team to come together at the early stages of a project to sort out things like digital engineering workflow, and a digital plan of work - things that didn’t used to exist before,” explains Donna Huey, director of strategic ventures for Atkins in North America. “However the people that have historically come together at such early stages aren’t necessarily those that have the expertise to sort out these new challenges. So our project and discipline leaders are having to learn new skills - even a new language - to ensure that they are taking the right decisions in those early foundational elements of a project.”

By bringing the project data together into a single information model the use of BIM creates a virtual project environment that the entire project team can work within. “It’s interesting because it’s not just about technology, it’s about collaborative working, which is such a buzz word. It means that the timing is right to ensure that professionals and clients are digitally enabled,” says Anne Kemp, director of BIM at Atkins and vice-chair of BuildingSMART UK and Ireland, a collaborative industry body set up to develop standards, tools and training that facilitate the open use of BIM.

Ensuring this digital enablement starts in the very early stages of a project means a lot more communication. “There are so many more interdependencies in the early stages. You have to talk and coordinate what you do. You can’t work in isolation but that is sometimes an uncomfortable place for some people in the design space,” says Huey, explaining that encouraging people to meet in the middle is an important step in facilitating the greater collaboration that BIM enables. “So whether you are an executive that has to roll up your sleeves and learn more about the technology so that you can be a better leader or whether it means you are a CAD or BIM designer used to working more in isolation and now you have to be more visible and communicative, we are trying to help people meet in the middle,” says Huey. 

New relationships

Within the virtual world of the building information model itself the interactions between project teams, whether that is internally or externally, are changing. Sharing a digital space means new kinds of relationships form. “When we were face to face it was a more tactile environment. We could physically read the room with instinct and emotional intelligence. In the virtual world we haven’t got that,” says Kemp, explaining that in the absence of physical clues to be interpreted new ways of building relationships are emerging. “How do we develop a trusting, robust relationship virtually, on a one to one or a team basis? How can you engender trust in a virtual world? Part of it is through data. Are you sharing the data, is the data trustworthy, is it reliable, is it consistent, are you allowing it to be shared in a timely manner and in a way that can be understood?”

This data sharing is where the real opportunities of BIM emerge says Kemp, as the flow of information is reliable, controlled and available to the project team, opening up some of the silos that previously existed between different teams and different organisations. This in turn enables better decision making with more clarity about the project outcomes from a very early stage.

The ability to show the impact of the design in a 3D way is proving to be a powerful tool for designers who are able to demonstrate options to clients like never before. “We are delivering a project for a client in Atlanta at the moment, and we felt the best design solution should include a bridge. Using BIM, we were able to produce multiple options in a true-to-site virtual environment,” says Chris Harman, Atkins’ senior engineer in the aviation department in North America. “When the stakeholders saw the options modelled, they realised the value of the design that included the bridge. We were able to deliver this quickly. Without BIM it would have taken significant time and money to achieve the same outcome.”

Harman would know. As a senior engineer he is experienced with working with and without digital tools like BIM and as the technology emerged over the past decade he was one of the first to champion its potential. “In the beginning, our managers would say ‘are you guys going to use BIM to deliver this?’ The thought at the time was that we didn’t have the time or the money to deliver in 3D, but I would tell my managers we can’t afford not to deliver this way,” he says. And the opportunities that this gave clients quickly became clear. “In the last 10 years clients expect us to deliver change much faster. BIM has allowed us to give clients what they want late in the game with ongoing coordination.”

Harman too has been impressed by the benefits of better collaboration. “The whole team is working on one model rather than everyone in silos. It makes it easier to collaborate, especially on multidisciplinary projects - you can see what everyone else is doing. In the same way that clients are able to get a feel for the end product, we can see what another group is trying to do. The culture has changed.” 

Learning curve

For Harman, a senior engineer and technical specialist, being an early adopter at the cutting edge of BIM meant watching the emergence of new software updates and learning by doing.  “If you wait for training to come along you will be two years behind,” he says but points out that he then shares his findings internally by delivering training to other engineers, technicians and modellers. “If we are going to be using this new tech as it comes out we can’t wait for there to be training modules,” he says.

Empowering people like Harman to find their own way is a key part of Atkins’ strategy in this field, and is particularly important for young professionals. “There is a culture of mentoring, a culture of empowering people to find their own way and this is really important in this digital shift and the use of BIM and collaborative working,” says Kemp, explaining that dramatic technology changes in the past decade mean that younger professionals are already digitally enabled so supporting the application of this is key. “Our young managers are digitally au-fait and we need to ensure that appropriate wisdom is cascaded through so that they can learn this appropriately without us imposing unnecessary assumptions on them.”

This also means ensuring that there is not an over reliance on the data and that engineering skill, knowledge and application is not lost.

At the same time it also means more focus on the data itself. Recently, Atkins revealed the development of a new BIM tool that will enable the comparison of multiple construction materials at the outset of a project to provide a clear understanding of capital cost against the long term environmental impact. The tool which was developed in collaboration with the British University in Dubai will radically improve how construction materials are evaluated to meet the environmental impact requirements of LEED V4. “BIM is a hugely powerful resource but it will only ever be as good as the information which is put into it,” says Simon Nummy, Atkins’ sustainable design manager for rail. “By enriching our BIM tools with high quality, reliable information on materials we’ll be able to make more informed decisions at the outset of projects and programmes, with a clear understanding of cost, environmental impact and design implications.”

“It’s exciting because the tool will motivate an integrated design process right at the start of major projects,” says former Masters student Toufik Jabbour, who now works for Atkins as 6D BIM specialist, leading the development of the tool. “And that’s what BIM is all about. It improves knowledge and changes behaviours to deliver construction projects which are more sustainable in every sense of the word.”

More about BIM

BIM involves the creation of intelligence 3D models that are supported by relevant digital data. It is a ‘virtual project’ that then becomes a single source of information used to inform and assist the client and the project team during design, construction and even the asset management phases. BIM brings together three important strands of information management: people, process and technology. Read more here.


UK & Europe, Rest of World, North America, Middle East & Africa, Group, Asia Pacific,

In the past two decades, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has undergone one of the most radical transformations ever witnessed, with the construction sector at the heart of this change.

With so much prolonged activity and a pipeline of projects intended to support the country’s ongoing economic diversification, it should come as little surprise that the UAE has been leading the Gulf Cooperation Council as far as health and safety in construction is concerned.

For example, along the Persian Gulf coast, authorities in the UAE have made it mandatory for workers to down tools between 12:30pm and 3pm and for employers to provide shaded areas. The Ministry of Labour began demanding compulsory breaks for workers in open areas 11 years ago.

However, relative to the scale of the construction boom, health and safety in the Middle East is not yet embedded in industry culture. While the Health & Safety Executive in the UK and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US can enforce their authority through citations and fines, there hasn’t traditionally been a formalised system in place in this region.

“In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the regulatory authorities conduct enforcement activities, including on-site inspections and levying penalties where required, but many of the authorities in the region are relatively new,” says Atkins’ director John Milligan.

Making the grade

In an ongoing effort to close the gap with more mature markets and become more effective drivers of change, government authorities are working closely with partners, including Atkins, to bring safety in line with international best practice.

For example, when taking on supervisory contracts, Atkins oversees all contractors’ safety management, reviewing their plans and ensuring they meet the legal requirements of that jurisdiction. Not all contractors are created equal, however.

“We encounter a broad array of contractors, from those who don’t have the capacity to deliver against the legal requirements of the country in which they’re operating, to those who consistently deliver against international best practice,” says Milligan.

Knowing which contractors fall into the latter category is vital, as responsibility ultimately falls on the client. They are responsible for procuring both the construction and consultancy services, and drawing up contractual obligations such as penalties for non-compliance.

With this in mind, two years ago, Atkins developed a strategy document to help assess client and contractor safety standards and determine how they procure their supply chain.

“We gathered information on whether contractors actually understand the legal requirements and have the capacity to apply those requirements on any given site,” says Milligan. “We found that quite a few of them did not.”

The system ranks parties accordingly and provides a clear health and safety picture for everyone involved. In the two years since it was first developed, the system showed that if a client is determined to be very safety mature, they are inclined to recruit contractors with equally high standards. Further down the scale, those with poorer standards are more likely to choose contractors with weaker safety standards.

This does not mean that only contractors at the top of the pile are the only ones that should be brought on board – properly supervised, those in the middle can learn improved safety checks and measures which they can apply in future, creating a virtuous health and safety circle in the process.

Speaking a common language

This tiering system is just one tool for approaching health and safety. All projects require a series of method statements – documents that give specific instructions on how to safely perform a work-related task or operate a piece of equipment. Acting in a supervisory capacity, the consultant’s role is to ensure that contractors are keeping to these method statements.

Atkins found that many contractors in the Middle East were treating these statements as a formality, creating them for approval, then filing them away.

To address this, Atkins set about developing its Minimum Requirements initiative, which won Health & Safety Initiative of the Year at MEED’s inaugural Daman Corporate Health Awards in Abu Dhabi in 2014. The initiative takes a pro-active approach: contractors are asked to demonstrate on-site exactly how they are adhering to their method statements. Contractors also have to take photos of key stages of a project, to be included in the method statements before they are approved by Atkins.

These visual aids are crucial – while workers on projects in the Middle East may share a common language, many are unable to read or write. Illustrating the sequence of work, with an emphasis on safety, helps to overcome barriers such as illiteracy. Once these photos are appended to the method statements, Atkins can give a project its final approval and construction can get underway.

“And if a method statement is breached, we can pull consent of supervision for all similar activities on that project. One incident is all it takes to pull consent for the rest of the project, which means contractors take the process far more seriously than before,” says Milligan.

Fortunately, Atkins has been showing best practice by sharing its health and safety procedures with as many clients, contractors and – perhaps surprisingly – consultants as possible. By spreading the word, Atkins is helping to raise standards throughout the Middle East and thereby deepening the pool of viable contractors.

“We encourage our clients to include our Minimum Requirements document in their tenders when they are procuring contractors and we’ve encouraged them to use the same criteria as we do for assessing the safety maturity of contractors,” says Milligan. “With this kind of partnership, everybody speaks the same language and, we hope, health and safety will continue to be given priority by everyone involved.”

Middle East & Africa,

Like any epic journey, turning Birmingham’s 1960s reinforced concrete railway station into a futuristic transport hub, would be full of twists and turns. “We were running four design programmes in parallel, all at different stages and each affecting the building and that was quite complex,” says Stephen Ashton, Atkins’ engineering director on the £750 million project.

Birmingham’s 1960s reinforced concrete railway station
Birmingham’s 1960s reinforced concrete railway station.

Starting in February 2008 Atkins’ original contract was for detailed design of the station redevelopment for client Network Rail. This would open up the dark and gloomy underground platform complex and increase passenger capacity in the station through the creation of a new concourse, improve vertical access to the platforms which sit below ground level, and deliver an enlarged station building. All of which was to be enveloped in an iconic futuristic roof structure.

“On day one we hit the first major challenge. Following a review by the Department of Transport of the GRIP 4 design it was agreed to implement some changes to improve and enhance the concourse layout and so we were instructed to redesign a significant proportion of the scheme,” explains Ashton. Changes to the layout including a new eastern entrance were requested and so Atkins got started on this, as well as progressing the original detailed design contract in order to ensure that the client and principal contractor Mace could keep the project on schedule. As these first two design streams got underway the team carefully watched to ensure that any changes to the outline design were incorporated into the detailed design workstream.

A few months later in September the architectural contract for the façade and roof structure was awarded to Foreign Office Architects (FOA). A third design stream then commenced as the team worked to move this section of the project through early design stages. However from the outset it was clear that the chosen design would have a major impact on the work that had already been undertaken. “The FOA design changed the concept in that the original façade and roof design consisted of a glazed frame with its own foundations but the new structure used stainless steel cladding that hung off the existing building,” says Ashton.

The glass roof had been replaced with a transparent polymer called ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) which was to sit on 30m long structural steel arched trusses
The glass roof had been replaced with a transparent polymer called ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) which was to sit on 30m long structural steel arched trusses.

The glass roof had been replaced with a transparent polymer called ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) which was to sit on 30m long structural steel arched trusses. “We had this whole new loading system coming into the building with new roof structure and cladding combined with the removal of the central part of the existing reinforced concrete frame. This means we are changing how the building moves, how loads were being applied and therefore we needed to analyse the building to ensure that the end product was stable,” said Ashton. From this the Global Stability Analysis (GSA) tool was born.

This digital model enabled the team to mimic the impact of local design changes across the whole structure, running computational analysis as major changes were made. Ashton says that throughout the project there were six key construction stages where the model was used as a construction tool to ensure stability through the build and advise on temporary works design. In the case of the new roof the team sought to ensure that loading was carried vertically through the existing reinforced concrete columns. “As a result of all these loading changes we ended up strengthening 52 columns with concrete jackets of 100-200mm thick depending on the loads,” says Ashton.

Commercial impacts

If things were not complex enough commercial considerations then threw another bump in the road when in 2010 Birmingham City Council negotiated an exciting deal to bring John Lewis into the Pallasades shopping centre above the station. News that the company would open its biggest store outside London at 250,000 sq feet was announced in February 2011.
“Once the negotiations had concluded and John Lewis agreed to come to Birmingham, Network Rail added in the south side development and that was the addition of the new building along with the redevelopment of the Pallasades shopping centre, which is now Grand Central,” explains Ashton.

The fourth major design programme was born and once again it had huge implications for the design of the station redevelopment. The new steel framed building appears to step in to the existing structure at the southern end where the careful and piecemeal demolition of the existing 22 storey Stephenson Tower made space for it. Some of the existing structure at roof level also had to be taken out allowing the new structure to expand over the top of the station like a mushroom. However there were still limits on how much load the existing concrete structure would be able to absorb from the new steel frame.

“What you don’t want to do is to add stresses in the existing structure by causing any deflections in the concrete beams and columns as the new structure and foundations settle with the load. What we have had to do is design a jacking system that was installed between the new steel columns and existing concrete beams along with a deflection monitoring system. The jacks are adjusted so that there is controlled deflection of the existing structure and hence no change in its loading,” says Ashton.

He explains that the connection between the new steel framed structure and the existing concrete beams needed bearings too, to account for the load induced movements, such as thermal movements, of concrete and steel structures. “We designed the bearing and the movement system for the joints to make it so that you don’t know these are two different buildings. We also designed the foundations to the John Lewis building to a very tight settlement criteria such that the settlement that occurs from the loading was minimised. We didn’t want the new building settling significantly compared to the existing building,” says Ashton.

Design of the various elements then continued to progress at different rates so integration was a project buzzword. Ashton says that having senior members of the engineering team leading the coordination efforts was critical as each took responsibility for their discipline: “We ran a separate team on the John Lewis building so in some areas we had two drawings per area which we then had to integrate such that we only had one set.” With over 3,500 drawings prepared as part of the detailed design and another 500 for the John Lewis building the task was enormous.

Quick changes

Even more challenging was that as contractors started onsite it became apparent that the limited available as-built drawings did not accurately reflect the true condition of the building. “We had requested intrusive surveys for the start of the detailed design but the client was not able to undertake a significant number of these because it would mean closing parts of the station and Pallasades Shopping Centre which could not be done. So the decision was made to undertake those intrusive surveys during construction,” says Ashton.

This meant making a lot of design assumptions about the existing building from the size of columns to percentage of reinforcement. Although the team made conservative estimates to be sure of the structural integrity they also assumed that the building was in relatively good condition which unfortunately turned out not to be the case. In some areas poor construction work on the 1960s building meant that the concrete contained a lot of voids, various concrete elements had deteriorated and rebar became exposed. Original movement joints for the building were not where the plans said they were.

“Contractors were onsite telling us that the building was not like the drawings, so we were forever going out to site to validate or update our drawings,” says Ashton. But the clock was ticking. Phase one opening for the first half of the new concourse was set for April 2013 and with full phase two opening in September 2015, Atkins quickly brought in more resources to ensure that work could progress. “Our design team for the construction stage flexed in size in response to the project demands with a peak of 180 during phase one,” says Ashton.

This kind of fluctuation in staff numbers happened several times throughout the scheme and Ashton estimates that over 800 design staff have worked at Birmingham New Street since work began in 2008. Critical to this flexibility was the work of engineers in the Atkins Global Design Centre in Bangalore, India. “They have done a really good job in supporting us,” he says, but points out that it was a group effort with Atkins’ offices from all over the UK contributing.

The GDC team was ramped up as the work progressed and with program being the key focus, a dedicated team of architects, engineers and technicians worked relentlessly ensuring that high quality designs were delivered.

“The key for successful delivery from the GDC was the engagement with the client and contractors. Design team leads interacted with the client representatives, project managers from MACE and various suppliers located in the UK and other parts of the world,” explains Raja Narwari, Atkins’ GDC practice manager for Rail Solutions. “This allowed the design teams to fully coordinate the designs and give a thorough consideration of buildability.”

With so many changes cropping up, Ashton confirms that having a good relationship with the contractor was vital especially as changes had to be made during the construction phase. “It wasn’t an alliance in contractual terms but we have worked collaboratively to come up with the best solution possible while protecting the design. We wanted to help make the construction as easy as possible whilst assuring the integrity of the structure,” says Ashton.

Ashton continued: “Looking back this has been a fantastic journey during which the Atkins team has applied fundamental engineering principles, knowledge and experience to enable the transformation of this extraordinary building – a structure made up of nine interdependent concrete frames over eight levels, a final concourse footprint five times larger than Euston station along with the addition of the steel framed JLP building over four levels and 187 M&E systems to be commissioned.”

And what a structure it is. Birmingham finally has a gateway that befits its status as the UK’s second largest city and what is more the improved accessibility with four entrances rather than two, is opening up the southern part of the city. “This station will draw more people to Birmingham and lead to regeneration of the southern part of the city. It will have a big impact on those who live and breathe Birmingham,” says Ashton.


UK & Europe,

Over 40,000 delegates are expected in Paris this December for the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference. Its main objective is to reach a universal legally binding agreement on combating climate change and boost the transition towards resilient low carbon economies.

Reaching an agreement at a global level is needed to ensure that contributions pledged by individual countries add up to a sufficient level of global action, providing financial support for adaptation and the low carbon transition. ‘’When the deal is hopefully struck it will make a significant difference to the ability of individual countries to tackle climate change as it will provide a clear signal for businesses to guide investment toward low carbon outcomes,’’ says Charlie Francis, Atkins’ associate director of landscape and urban design, based in Qatar.

Important discussions are also underway to agree a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These will create a roadmap of how change can happen at a country level, with efforts set to focus on both mitigating climate change and adapting to existing changes, while setting a clear path for international development for the next generation.

For Dr Neil Kirkpatrick, head of sustainability for Faithful+Gould in the Middle East, this is a huge opportunity, as well as an enormous challenge. But he says an emphasis on collaboration throughout the group is delivering fantastic results for clients, many of which recognise that sustainable design is not only good for the environment but can also save money too. He says that starting from a commercial perspective and then bringing in the most appropriate technical solution is key. “The business case to what we call Future Proofing Cities begins to influence how you use the land in terms of building design, public realm and infrastructure. We then guide that process to get better outcomes in terms of reducing water consumption, more efficient use of materials and better, more integrated transport systems,” he says noting that the hot climate of the Middle East requires its own unique set of conditions to deliver the most sustainable outcomes possible.

Another important driver is the philosophical approach that leaders of Gulf States are taking. “The vision here is often truly inspirational. Those developing cities and planning for the future don’t have to think in short term election cycles like folks in many other parts of the world and they will often consider time horizons of 50-100 years– which means that they really are considering what life will be like for their children and grandchildren and more importantly, what decisions can we take now that will make their lives more sustainable,” says Kirkpatrick.

At an international level Kirkpatrick and Francis point to initiatives such as Abu Dhabi’s zero carbon Masdar City, being developed by the government owned Mubadala Development Company. The city is using smart investments to pioneer a “greenprint” for how global cities can accommodate rapid urbanisation dramatically reducing energy and waste. At its heart is the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a research university dedicated to cutting-edge solutions in the fields of energy and sustainability. Companies are encouraged to foster close ties with the university and partner to spark economic growth and accelerate breakthrough technologies to market. This includes the promotion of solar energy with rooftop energy systems installed on buildings as well as a 10MW photovoltaic installation. Water conservation is also heavily promoted too with low flow fittings, onsite reuse of wastewater for irrigation, water metering and a water tariff to monitor use.

“To initiate this model on this scale was a really brave thing to do and it will be interesting to see how it develops,” says Francis, noting that there are parallels between this and another important development in Qatar known as Msheireb, described as the sustainable regeneration of downtown Doha. “Sustainability is at its heart and a lot of lessons have been learnt from how the city developed and functioned in the past. The street patterns, materials, building techniques and architectural styles are identifiably Qatari and the development density is high creating a walkable, compact neighbourhood in which to live, work and socialise, reducing significantly the need for the car and all its associated infrastructure and space requirements,” says Francis. With the reduced dependency on car-based transport the streets can be made narrower and in combination with high buildings creates shade, with the street and building form orientated to maximise the prevailing winds to create a natural cooling effect to both buildings and open space. Francis states: “There is no new science or thinking being created here, it is simply the application of environmentally responsive design which saves energy and creates liveable and sustainable places for people. It’s a fundamental part of good design.’’

This local context specific approach is vital says Kirkpatrick: “Creating sustainable cities doesn’t mean always implementing an off the shelf technology. You are looking at the work of many different people to deliver these projects,” he says, explaining that Atkins’ approach sees a vital combination of sustainable management practitioners working with technical experts. “We have brilliant people in Atkins on the specialists and smart technology side to ensure we can make the most efficient transport system or how to control heating and cooling, but this needs to be set alongside key performance indicators and data collection and modelling. It is that combination of management and technology that gives us the added value, and our role is to provide the vehicle to do that.”

Atkins is working with clients across all industries to embrace sustainable and smart development into its projects. For example a local hospitality industry client recently saw financial benefits at a new hotel development thanks to Atkins’ design which incorporated balconies on all rooms. “This provided extra cooling reducing the operational cost of air conditioning, the capital cost of the HVAC system but at the same time saw revenues at the hotel increase,” says Kirkpatrick.

Another initiative where technical experts from Atkins have been involved is the recycling of crumb rubber from old tyres to create a polymer modified bitumen for road surfacing. “This has lower maintenance demands than traditional surfacing and by recycling materials we are reducing import demand and trucks on the road at a global level,” says Kirkpatrick.

Initiatives aimed at water saving are increasingly being considered around the region, particularly in Gulf states which rely on energy intensive desalination for potable supplies. “When it comes to water and energy consumption education is key,’’ says Francis. Qatar has the highest per capita water consumption in the world which has led the Qatar Electricity and Water Corporation to launch Tarsheed – a national campaign for the conservation and efficient use of water and electricity to raise awareness and to educate its citizens on the need to manage water and energy consumption.

“It’s a sensible step when you consider that the country will need approximately $6 billion USD over the next ten years to properly develop its water network. A significant portion of these funds will be used to build and install new desalination plants,’’ says Francis. “To achieve an effective reduction it needs more than just products. Changing fittings, limiting potable water use and the use of recycled water for irrigation and industry must go hand in hand with education.”

When it comes to future proofing cities and making them more sustainable, influencing behaviour is vital too, says Kirkpatrick: “For example by removing the air conditioning control from the individual and making it centralised you stop people constantly adjusting the temperature and can save a lot of energy,”

Another way to influence behaviour at a large scale is to mandate sustainability targets for developments, which could be something that a new international climate change agreement could kick start. However Francis and Kirkpatrick advise caution over the use of the various energy efficiency standards and systems which promote good practice but if not used appropriately risk becoming an expensive “add on” to projects particularly if they are not considered as part of an overall approach and strategy for delivering more sustainable solutions.

For the Gulf, where a lot of development is new build, there is great potential for creating smart, healthy and sustainable cities. “With new cities there is a huge opportunity to get it right,” says Kirkpatrick. “The design outcomes are available and it is up to us to take clients on a journey and show them how to get there. It is an exciting time.”

Future proofing cities – key terms:

    Healthy cities
  • Masterplanning – The layout and arrangement of a project often has the biggest potential for sustainability with many benefits available from concentrating development in cities
  • Materials cycle – Reduce, reuse and recycle are now embedded in design practice but adding in “restore” will take cities to true sustainability
  • Biodiversity – Before urbanisation plants provided basic processes to support human need, encouraging this can breathe life into cities
  • Transport – Integrated public transport systems reduce car use and regenerate cities by improving connectivity
  • Energy – Global warming is directly impacted by energy use. Reduction of use and encouraging clean energy sources are vital
  • Water – Healthy cities use water efficiently and can actively restore resources encouraging reuse and restoration
  • Sustainable city – Designed to consider environmental impact and minimisation of resources including energy, water and food, and also minimising waste and pollution.
  • Healthy city – Designed to promote public health considering key issues such as clean air and water, sanitary waste disposal, food quality and disease prevention.
  • Smart city – Uses digital technologies to enhance quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with citizens

Middle East & Africa,

Crossrail is aiming to set new standards for the delivery of infrastructure. The mammoth task of excavating 42km of new railway tunnels beneath the UK capital is now complete. The first trains are expected to run through these tunnels in 2018.

According to Rob McCrae, Atkins’ framework director for Crossrail, success starts at the drawing board: “One of the decisive factors is that we had adequate time to get the designs right – and relatively few changes have been made since construction started.”

Atkins, working in a partnership with Arup, produced the detailed design of Crossrail’s twin-bore tunnels, the latest in its long history of work on a multitude of tunnel and underground works projects around the globe. The two firms are also working on the engineering and design of the new stations at Tottenham Court Road and Woolwich. In addition, Atkins is responsible for the architectural component contract for all the stations and associated structures.

Crossrail’s delivery has led the Commons Public Accounts Committee to describe the £15 billion scheme as “a textbook example of how to get things right.”

The experience of Crossrail has led to increased interest in tunnelling expertise. Earlier this year, the Government announced funding worth £1.1 million to develop tunnelling skills, with the construction industry providing an additional £1.7 million. The money will be used to create apprenticeships and train the next generation of tunnelling workers. Crossrail itself established the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy, a specialist training centre for the UK construction industry, to ensure the project had the right skills to undertake the project.

Getting it right

What has Crossrail learnt so far – and what lessons are there for other major projects such as High Speed 2 and the Thames Tideway super sewer?

One way to ensure projects run efficiently is to minimise and control the number of changes made during construction.

“Change can drive things over budget, so from the outset Crossrail focused on getting the design right and getting the programme right,” says McCrae. “It helps to have a mature client: Crossrail Ltd is run by experienced people who have done a lot of these projects before.”

Keeping local stakeholders on-side throughout the project also helped to ensure trouble-free delivery. Digging tunnels and shafts can cause ground movement if not controlled, so actively monitoring and compensating for any movement as well as ensuring that local residents and businesses were kept in the loop was vital.

“Explaining what would happen at an early stage and demonstrating what you are doing to minimise the effect makes a big difference,” emphasises McCrae.

Crossrail is one of the most complex infrastructure projects ever carried out in London, with more than 40 construction sites spread across its route. A project of this scale must deal with thousands of structural interfaces: existing pipe and cable networks have to be taken into account, along with the often highly complex relationships between tunnels and stations.

Smart technology is helping to avoid potential snarl-ups and ensure that work progresses smoothly. For example, BIM – Building Information Modelling – is a collaborative three-dimensional design tool that takes every aspect of a design or project into account.

“Traditionally, engineers worked in 2D and this meant it could be quite difficult to spot clashes in complicated structures,” explains McCrae. “BIM helped tremendously, particularly on the stations. Better visualisation of the project at an early stage means there’s less need to change designs once construction begins. Crossrail was one of the first major infrastructure projects where BIM was used effectively in the UK.”

Atkins will be applying the same successful approach to Britain’s new high-speed north-south rail link, having been appointed by HS2 Ltd to provide BIM support on the project, covering the planning and delivery of a range of activities including BIM educational and assessment tools for the supply chain.

Better machinery and materials are also helping to transform urban tunnelling. “Slurry shield” tunnel boring machines, for example, have made it possible to drive Crossrail’s tunnels through highly permeable rocks such as chalk, and weak, leaky strata such as Thanet Sands.

Mastering these geological challenges matters because most of the world’s major cities have grown up near water. Coasts and rivers bring life to settlements, but the weak and wet geology that underlies many cities has often proved a hindrance to tunnellers. With modern tunnelling equipment, though, geological formations that were once off-limits can now be economically and safely tunnelled.

Jessica Daughtry, principal tunnel engineer with Atkins, worked with the team that built the new tunnel between Plumstead and North Woolwich – the only point where the Crossrail route crosses the River Thames. This section of tunnel traverses sands, gravels and chalk.

“As soon as you see the chalk, you see water,” says Daughtry. “With the slurry tunnel-boring machine, though, you wouldn’t know you were in wet ground. Tunnelling of this sort is a challenge, but not if you have the right equipment.”

Advances in materials technology are also helping to reduce the cost and risk of tunnel construction. Tunnel linings are a case in point. Instead of using traditional bar reinforcement, the pre-cast concrete segments used in Crossrail’s tunnels incorporate fibre reinforcements – typically, high-tensile steel strips about the length of a paperclip. Using fibre reinforcement simplifies the manufacturing process and allows engineers a greater level of control over the concrete’s properties: adding polymer fibres, for example, improves fire resistance.

“Fibre reinforced concrete has a number of technical advantages and it also results in a reduction in costs,” says McCrae. “The way the lining for Crossrail was designed is going to benchmark what is used on HS2 and on the Thames Tideway.”

Bridging the gap

Turning designs into real tunnels and stations depends on a close working relationship between designers, contractors and the client. Traditionally, these relationships have been arm’s length at best. But that’s changing, with an emphasis on collaboration and partnerships to boost efficiency. Co-location is one way of achieving this.
“We share an office with the client and the contractor – I’m a big fan of that, because you can talk to each other directly, you develop better relationships and minimise the risk of miscommunication. The whole thing moves forward a lot more smoothly,” says Daughtry.

The role of designers is also changing. In the past, designers focused on drawings rather than delivery. Getting a design engineer back on site to sort out a problem could take days. On Crossrail, though, the designers are part of the delivery team and an engineer can be down in the tunnel sorting out problems in minutes. This is vital because of the often complex nature of the relationship between temporary and permanent works, and interactions between different contracts such as stations and tunnels.

“There’s a much more active role for designers continuing through into construction,” says Harriet Rutledge, principal engineer with Atkins. “On Crossrail, we were involved in the regular daily shift meetings. This meant we were able to monitor performance and also to check that contractors were aware of any specific design aspects that they may not have picked up from our drawings. We’re part of the delivery team rather than just doing the designs and going away.”

Every major project reveals new insights and a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Crossrail is no exception. Ensuring that best practice is systematically captured and shared is a vital part of the process. Daughtry and Rutledge are among the Atkins engineers who have written up their findings to share with other designers.

Rutledge’s paper, co-authored with the contractor, considers the interactions between close-proximity excavation works and how they can best be monitored: in this case, the simultaneous construction of new tunnels and the excavation of a new station directly above them at Paddington. Establishing that tasks of this sort can be carried out in parallel – and in safety – is important because it eliminates the need for a potentially long and expensive wait by contractors.

“As well as a safety case, it provided a lot of data you can take forward to another project to better understand how the ground and the tunnels will behave in similar situations,” says Rutledge.

Daughtry, who wrote a paper on the fire design aspects of segmental linings, agrees that the systematic recording and sharing of such findings has real value: “Fire design requirements, for example, are becoming more stringent in many of the markets in which we operate. Sharing our findings helps Atkins’ engineers from around the world in their own projects.”

From developments in tunnelling techniques to improvements in knowledge sharing, Crossrail has helped to drive a step-change in the way tunnelled infrastructure is designed and delivered. With the UK planning a series of major tunnelling projects over the next decade – including Thames Tideway, High Speed 2, new electricity cable tunnels and proposals for Crossrail 2 – the lessons learned beneath the streets of London look set to be put to good use.

UK & Europe,

High speed networks are transforming rail travel. And nowhere is that transformation greater than in China. In less than ten years, China has laid more than 16,000km of new track to create the world’s biggest high speed rail network. And it’s just the start: there are plans to build another 16,000km of lines by 2020.

Quicker journeys provide unprecedented freedom for travellers, making cities become closer in terms of travel time. But for the lower tier cities that find themselves in the path of China’s expanding high speed network, fast trains can be a mixed blessing. Unless newly-connected cities can attract travellers – and give passengers a good reason to get off trains – they run the risk of being left further behind.

The city of Shangrao is a case in point. Situated in Jiangxi Province in the east of China just under 500km south west of Shanghai, this is a landlocked, third tier city with a population of just over six and a half million people.

The opening of the latest section of the Shanghai–Kunming High Speed Railway (HSR) in December last year has put Shangrao firmly on the high speed railway map. What’s more, the city is served by the new Hefei–Fuzhou HSR which opened late in June this year, elevating Shangrao to the status of a major railway intersection.

To ensure the city is able to make the most out of its new role as a regional transport hub, Shangrao’s Urban & Rural Planning Bureau recently commissioned Atkins and the Planning and Design Institute of Nanjing University, Beijing Branch, to create the blueprints for a major new urban development linked to the railway. Our partnership with a quality local design institute enabled the team to combine global ideas with local needs and produce a masterplan that is highly implementation driven. This truly “glocal” approach to designing future cities was key in winning the international competition.

“High speed rail brings opportunities as well as challenges,” says Jessie Yao, project manager, Atkins. “Our job is to use the opportunity provided by high speed rail to enhance the competitiveness of the city through effective economic transformation and city rebranding. We are doing this by creating a high speed rail district.”

The development zone lies just over six kilometres east of Shangrao’s city centre and covers an area of more than 60km2. Atkins’ role is to provide urban design and development framework for the core area which covers an area of 6.7km2. When completed, the core will have a population of about 64,000 people while the population of the wider planning area is expected to reach 130,000.

Showcasing Shangrao

The heart of the new high speed rail district is Shangrao railway station. The existing main line station has been revamped and expanded, with extra platforms added to accommodate high speed trains. The new station building is a landmark in its own right, with a distinctive undulating roofline that mirrors the region’s mountainous topography.

One of the challenges facing Shangrao is that the new high speed lines – and the station – are some way from the city, although this is not unusual in China: even conventional main line stations are sometimes found on the outskirts. This, in part, is because the bulk of the country’s railways were built after 1950 by which time most urban centres were already established.

“It’s about 20 minutes’ travel from Shangrao station to the city,” points out Carmen Lu, assistant urban designer, urban planning & consultancy, Atkins. “This is close by Chinese standards.” However, sometimes major transportation centres are deliberately located afar as it is used to stimulate local growth and respond to the rapidly urbanising China. In time, urban development takes place around these new transport hubs, relieving pressure on the old city centre where infrastructure has reached capacity and the urban fabric is in need of renewal.

For Shangrao, the fact that the station is on the urban fringe is a plus rather than a minus: land for development is relatively easier to assemble than in the city centre and there’s plenty of room for expansion in response to rapid urbanisation.

Yao stresses that the new HSR district is not simply another property development project. “It will include a mixture of cultural and tourist attractions, businesses and modern service industries. It’s also intended to provide local businesses with a platform to showcase their products and services to a wider audience,” she says. In short, it is a shop window for what the city has to offer.

Creating a unique and welcoming environment is a priority. The key to achieving this is capitalising on Shangrao’s natural attractions. These include the Yunbifeng National Forest Park, which is part of the planning area, and the Xinjiang River, which skirts the southern edge of the core site. “When you get outside the station, the first thing you see is mountains,” points out Yao. “Our aim is to make the best use of the landscape of the city.” This goes against the traditional textbook approach to the design of a transport-orientated development (TOD) which is to maximise the development intensity around the station. Arriving in a place of nature rather than a dense vertical city gives travellers a different impression of Shangrao.

To make the most of its natural surroundings, the plan reaches out to these and uses them to define the specific characters of the different functional zones, each of which plays to local strengths and culture. For example, one zone celebrates the city’s rich tea culture through the proposed tea culture town which has a modern agricultural demonstration garden. There is also an ecological recreation area and a series of health club clusters with a mountain sport theme. Furthermore, the new urban forestry zone will showcase the unique native species found within the city.

Designing the new HSR district is not all plain sailing. “Many land parcels in the area have been sold off and the fragmented environment is a challenge for our client,” notes Yao. “In response to this, we’ve optimised the public open space in our landscape design to enable Shangrao city government more flexibility in its subsequent management.” Therefore it was imperative that we prepare a flexible plan to reflect the constant changes that are taking place even during the planning process.

Currently, the site includes a mixture of farmland, industry and settlements. Some settlements and businesses will need to be relocated.The price of rapid urbanisation is often disruption to the city’s social fabric and this is no exception in the case of Shangrao . The challenge for the team was to derive a sensitive implementation plan to minimise the disruption by ensuring that compensation is fair and job displacements are supported by alternative opportunities and retraining programmes.

The railway also creates challenges in city design. Most conventional railways are constructed at ground level, with cuttings and embankments created to form a level alignment. China’s high speed railways are different. To reduce the loss of agricultural land (which represents important employment and food resources) and to minimise the need for resettlement, many new lines are built on viaducts. These are highly visible and they often dissect the place through which they pass.

At Shangrao, the situation is further complicated by the presence of a massive high speed railway junction. Criss-crossing the site over several kilometres, a heart-shaped complex of elevated loops and flyovers allows trains to sweep from the north-south to the east-west lines at speed. As a result, parts of the site are studded with concrete piers, some of them up to 30 metres high.

The shadowy and often unloved spaces beneath railway lines have long been the bane of urban planners. But at Shangrao, the Atkins team is planning to turn this space to advantage – with the help of local artists.

“We want to give people reasons to celebrate the high speed rail and one way we’re doing so is by creating a high speed rail modern art park below the viaduct area, the first of its sort in China,” explains Yao. “This will provide a space to exhibit local art and culture. The viaduct’s support columns will form an integral part of this and these will be used to create works of art.”

A greener city

Getting around the site is designed to be a pleasure rather than a chore. Again, the purpose is to deliberately provide a different arrival experience for this new district in a disadvantaged part of China. Eco-low carbon approaches are being adopted to ensure ample green space, along with sustainable travel around the site.

“A circular green link connects most of the main public spaces and open areas, including the art park, the Educational Cultural Park and public facilities such as museums and galleries,” explains Lu. “The pedestrian and cycle system is one of the main components of the design and this extends right across the planning area.” There are also plans in provide trams to link key points on the site, including the railway station and Xinjiang River waterfront.

As well as being a destination in its own right, the HSR district is also intended to provide a gateway to tourist attractions in the wider region. Tourism is seen as a growth engine by the Shangrao authorities and plans to boost visitor numbers – both domestic and overseas – are a key plank in the city’s five-year plan.

“Shangrao is a natural touring centre for some the country’s most spectacular scenery and the city is now more accessible than ever thanks to fast trains,” says Yao. “Using the new high speed line, it takes just over two-and-a-half hours to get from Shanghai to Shangrao.” The same journey takes more than seven hours on a conventional train.

The region certainly has plenty to offer. Attractions include Mount Sanqingshan National Park, noted for its dramatic granite peaks. This lies to the north of Shangrao. Attractions to the south include Mount Wuyi and the gorges of the Nine-Bend River. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Shangrao is also home to more than 20 national scenic areas.

Not every city can boast the natural treasures on offer at Shangrao. But the design principles underpinning the city’s high speed district – sustainability, using green space and capitalising on local culture – have potential for much wider adoption. Cities beyond Shangrao, and beyond China, will be watching with interest.

Asia Pacific,

For decades the global aviation industry has enjoyed sustained growth, with economic development, globalisation and liberalisation fuelling a demand for greater capacity and connectivity. New technologies, far from replacing the need to travel, encourage greater international connectivity between people and business – providing new reasons to travel. “Aviation is a sector that has continued to grow for at least the past 40 years, and all forecasts indicate that it will continue to expand at a healthy rate across all regions for the foreseeable future,” says Graham Bolton, aviation director at Atkins.

In fact the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that demand will more than double by 2034, resulting in some 7.3 billion global air passenger journeys made every year, compared to 3.3 billion today. “History shows good correlation between growth in aviation and GDP, so as people and economies become more successful, aviation expands,” says Bolton. Through enabling the effective movement of goods and people, aviation itself is seen as a significant enabler of growth, with the US Federal Aviation Authority in 2014 identifying that aviation contributed 5.4 per cent to US GDP.

Although events such as the outbreak of SARS and the terrorist events of 9/11 have interrupted growth, the industry has always rebounded. “We see occasional blips from political or environmental events, but what is really interesting is that every time there has been a blip passenger numbers have recovered quickly,” says Bolton.

Developing infrastructure in response to this increasing demand involves a complex balancing act between the needs of airlines, airport owners, passengers and local communities. Changes in airframe and engine technology, which significantly reduce noise and fuel burn, help to reduce the impact of aviation, but need to be accompanied by improvements in surface access, operational efficiency and environmental performance of facilities.

With differences in local context and user needs between individual airports, there is therefore rarely an off-the-shelf solution to infrastructure provision. “There are different solutions that reflect the mix of passengers, airlines and travel patterns” says Bolton pointing to the difference between Atlanta, where Atkins undertook design and construction management for the fifth runway, and London Heathrow. “Atlanta has high levels of domestic traffic, whereas the majority of traffic at Heathrow is international. Both are hub airports but they have very different operations”.

Expansion of Heathrow Airport is currently being considered by the UK Government following the publication of a long awaited review of UK airport capacity on 1st July. The UK Airports Commission concluded that that there was a strong economic argument for expansion of airports capacity in the South East, and unanimously recommended the development of a new runway at Heathrow. However it said that this would need to be combined with a significant package of measures to address its environmental and community impacts covering noise issues, air quality and community engagement.

This is something that Hong Kong International Airport is very familiar with. The airport, which handled over 63 million passengers in 2014, had an environmental permit granted for construction of a third runway and terminal facilities in November 2014. Atkins is now designing the land formation for the new runway with associated facilities consisting of about 650 hectares of new land in the sea to the north of the existing airport platform. This means balancing the urgent need for new infrastructure with the environmental issues that marine work inevitably creates. “The addition of a third runway was proposed in the 2030 master plan, published in 2011, and the Airport Authority then had to begin the statutory consultative processes,” explains Damian Creally, Atkins’ project director. “The Airport Authority had to do an extensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and there were several issues to be considered including the impact that the land formation would have on the Chinese white dolphins; and the potential aircraft noise, air quality and social impacts associated with increasing numbers of flights.”

Having supported the Airport Authority in the development and subsequent expansion of the airport since the early 1990s, Atkins was well placed to work on the preparation of the EIA in association with other consultants. An environmental permit was subsequently granted and ensuring that the construction meets with the conditions and recommendations in the permit will lead to some innovative construction techniques being used, which will ensure preservation of ocean habitats and the protection of the environment. “There are a lot of techniques that will be used for construction that have not been used at this scale anywhere in the world. One of the environmental constraints is that there can be no dredging of the soft deposits of the sea bed,” says Creally. Therefore the use of non-dredge methods such as deep cement mixing to create grout columns that will stabilise the sea bed has been specified. Horizontal directional drilling will be used for the diversion of two existing aviation fuel supply pipes that are located below the land formation. This method sees installation carried out from the surface effectively pushing the diversion pipes deep into the bedrock without needed to disturb the marine environment of the sea bed. With an overall length of about 5km this will be a record breaking distance for the use of this method.

Construction of the three-runway system is a vital step for Hong Kong, which has seen passenger demand rise by over 120 per cent since it opened in 1998. In the first year 28.6 million passengers used the airport, but by 2014 it had risen to 63.3 million, placing it firmly in the world’s top ten. By 2030 the Airport Authority expects to see demand for 100 million passengers, which could only be met with a third runway. Based on these traffic projections, the expanded airport is expected to contribute HK$184 billion (in 2012 dollars) to local GDP every year, almost twice the 2012 contribution of HK$94 billion at the existing facility.

Such traffic growth is not unusual for Asian markets, with data from IATA indicating that passenger traffic in China alone will grow at 5.5 per cent per annum, a rate likely to be at least matched by other developing economies. Even in more mature markets, the impact of growth will be significant, with traffic in the US expected to have increased by over 500 annual million passengers by 2034. In anticipation of this major growth, airports across the country are reviewing their facilities and discussions are ongoing at government level regarding the funding of expansion projects. One of the methods under consideration is the removal of a cap on passenger facility charges, currently a maximum of $4.50 per passenger.

However some airports are moving ahead with their investment plans. In the south of the country Atkins is designing a new 30-gate international terminal at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. “We assessed the existing facilities, looked at anticipated usage and needs of the airlines, and in coordination with the airport and other consulting teams we established the business case for a solution that would best suit the airport’s development,” explains Justin Jones, senior vice president of Atkins’ aviation business in North America. “We determined that a new terminal would be far better from an operational and capital cost expenditure basis than upgrading existing facilities – and having done the planning and the site selection we now are designing the new terminal,” he continues. Construction for the project is due for completion in 2018.

What makes a good airport

As well as expansion schemes, airports in the US are also looking to improve return on investment and performance of their facilities. “Airports have a lot of information that they are not currently using, so the more sophisticated airports are looking at that to improve asset management, enhance energy efficiency and reduce operational expenditure,” says Jones, explaining that Atkins’ experience on airports all over the world means that the firm can share international best practice in these areas with its clients. At the same time demand for new services like this is seeing the firm grow and diversify its work in the sector.

Sharing best practice also means embracing new technologies and ensuring that new facilities are future-proofed. “Technology changes the way we use the infrastructure, but it changes at a pace and in ways that we can’t always exactly predict,” says Bolton pointing to the use of smartphones for online check in, radio frequency identification tags for baggage, and apps such as Uber that are changing the way that passengers are travelling to airports. “The important thing is that infrastructure has to have the flexibility to accommodate technology, process and regulator change – without increasing up-front investment. We may not have terminal buildings that look radically different in next five years, but what will certainly change is the ease and security with which people process through, and that will be a continuing evolution.”

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Natural disasters are striking at rates higher than previously recorded. Impacts of climate change on weather volatility coupled with population growth and densification in urban areas mean that such catastrophes are not only occurring with more frequency than ever before, they are affecting more lives.

A report published last year by the World Meteorological Organization found that, between 2000 and 2009, there were 3,496 reported floods, storms, droughts and heat waves – nearly five times the 743 disasters reported during the 1970s. These destructive events have come to dominate headlines month in, month out, and this year is no exception.

On 24 May 2015, a storm system dumped record levels of rainfall on tracts of Texas and Oklahoma, putting a number of counties under a state of emergency as flood waters claimed at least 31 lives and caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the government body mandated to assess the damage caused by the flooding and award federal aid to those most in need, has tasked Atkins with carrying out 52,000 housing inspections in Texas and 5,000 in Oklahoma.

Cathy Clinch, vice president and senior division manager of Atkins’ federal business unit, says the housing inspections are expected to rise to as many as 100,000 assessments in Texas and 12,000 in Oklahoma.

“We’re at the front end of the spear,” she says. “We go out and support post-disaster with rapid perishable data collection to try and identify the floodline, the high water marks and extent of damage. We support post-disaster forensic analysis to determine how the infrastructure coped. We then look for any catastrophic failures to support further analysis to improve infrastructure and community planning to minimize the impact of future events”.

No two disasters are identical, although there are often similarities. For example, tornadoes inflict damage quickly and move on, whereas floods linger, inundating homes and giving rise to everything from mold risks, spoilt agriculture and a sense of community and government fatigue that makes the recovery process from large scale and catastrophic disasters all the more protracted.

Preparation, resilience

Providing a community that can withstand a natural hazard is only part of the story.

In 2003, The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Office (AASHTO) requested a report to address the unexpected challenges to provide physical security against terrorists’ attacks on their critical structures. The report concluded, “The actions of terrorists can impose critical damage to some bridges, and, with explosive forces, exert loads that exceed those for which components are currently being designed. Worse yet, in some cases, the loads can be in the opposite direction of the conventional design loads.”

True resilient communities can withstand a multitude of disasters including cyber threats, natural hazards, terrorism and pandemics. The United States Presidential Policy Directive 8: National Preparedness (PPD-8) (March 2011) is aimed at strengthening the “security and resilience” of the United States through “systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the nation.”

The directive asks multiple federal agencies and the public and private sector to work together with communities to improve resilience. An integrated resilience approach means planning for one hazard in order to increase the resilience of the community in the wake of a other hazards. When this concept is applied to disaster events, being able to withstand and recover becomes a recognizable goal.

Much of the work in this field involves mitigation and planning for the future. When it comes to floods, this could mean anything from building floodways, levees, elevating structures to changing building codes/standards and local zoning. However, to be truly resilient, a community must recognize the interdependencies between infrastructure systems and understand how the threats will be impacted by all the proposed mitigation measures.

For example, a levee may impede flood water from entering a community but true community resilience looks at how the other threats, such as terrorism or a cyber-breach of the levee mechanisms, may impact the community.

“There is really no silver bullet. It takes a variety of disciplines coming together,” says Clinch. “We bring our engineering, cyber expertise, physical security consultants, coastal modeling, environmental, sociology and community planning experts together to assess how to build (or rebuild) a truly resilient community.”

Atkins’ tools

One of the most valuable tools for mapping out potential future natural disaster scenarios is HAZUS, a modeling program developed by Atkins and adopted by FEMA for risk awareness and disaster impact.

The software interprets fault lines and seismic activity, floodplains and storm activity and computes historical, hypothetical and predicted outcomes. Additionally, Atkins has developed StormCaster (, an integrated forecasting tool for projecting local impacts of climate change on size and frequency of major storms.

“This web based tool helps us focus on applying infrastructure improvements that will result in risk reduction associated with climate change and sea level rise. We take a proactive approach to resilience. We do not just mitigate based on the last storm, but also for future environmental conditions,” says Clinch.

“These tools are incredibly useful for conducting risk assessments and assessing potential consequences and enabling us to work with communities focusing on risk mitigation and reduction opportunities,” she adds.

“Depending on where you are in the country, hazards and consequences vary considerably – some regions are drought prone which are then more likely to experience wildfires and the cascading risks of flooding or mudslides. There are other regions that are more earthquake prone or regions which reside in hurricane prone areas. These varying regional hazards and risks are based on hydrologic/hydro geologic/ atmospheric and the consequence of that hazard is directly related to the resilience of the built environment.”

“Climate change doesn’t just mean higher temperatures, or more rain,” says Stephen Bourne, Atkins’ developer of StormCaster. “We’ve found that most often it means that the distribution of events is changing. Big storms are getting bigger. Big droughts are getting longer. In the future, towns may receive the same amount of annual rain they always did, but in much more dangerous events.”

In addition to PPD 8, governments have provided a legal basis for mitigation and recovery measures. In the US, the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 serves as a central document for FEMA. The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 provided the legal basis for FEMA mitigation planning requirements for State, local and Indian Tribal governments as a condition of mitigation grant assistance. This act amended the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act by repealing the previous mitigation planning provisions and replacing them with a new set of requirements that emphasize the need for State, local, and Indian Tribal entities to closely coordinate mitigation planning and implementation efforts.

Across the United States, resilience planning has become a top priority as water levels rise, storms grow more destructive, physical hazards and cyber-threats become more prevalent and populations compete for space. Integrated resilience, vigilance and preparation are now vital to avoid as much harm as possible.

North America,

Water damage

23 Jul 2015

In 2007, 13 people lost their lives during severe flooding across the UK, prompting the government to review the country’s defences. Atkins’ director and dams specialist Andy Hughes consulted with Sir Michael Pitt on his report, which recommended a risk-based approach and the allotment of funds to local authorities with higher risk dams to write off-site plans outlining flood responses and how to evacuate affected populations.

“The whole profession has upped the ante,” says Hughes. “We’ve become more knowledgeable and proactive rather than reactive. We are able to have stronger tools that allow us to be able to manage situations better, rehearse and think about the consequences of failure a lot more than has been the case in the past.”

The structural engineering analysis of dams is now more thorough than ever before and young sciences are deepening the industry’s knowledge of possible outcomes in the event of disasters. Advances in soil mechanics, which looks at the behaviour of different types of earth, particularly its erodibility, have helped experts to predict with greater accuracy how infrastructure assets will endure over time. Coupled with an understanding of the dam control systems that can be vulnerable to cyber-attack, our resilience teams can provide a total integrated resilience solution for communities.

Mike Woolgar, market director for the water division at Atkins in the UK, believes the biggest change in recent years has been from a defensive to a risk management mindset.

Disaster mitigation is not a binary issue. If flood walls are built to protect against a 100-year event and a 200-year event occurs, some water will breach that defence. Some parts of the world are guaranteed to face disasters, so it’s a case of preparation and resilience rather than prevention.

“There are certain measures that can be taken to make sure that, when the damage hits, it’s not something you can’t recover from,” says Woolgar.

Holistic care

There is now an overall awareness of disaster preparedness and focus on resilience, consisting of mitigation and escalated recovery/reconstitution. Without proper forethought, planning any new developments can increase unexpected risks, even for areas that sit miles away.

For example, in the past, the economics of building a bridge over a river meant that they should be a short as possible. This was intended to save money, but, in many cases, it created pinch points, stymied flow, increased the risk of flooding upstream and reduced the access to many critical facilities if breached or closed.

In 2009, the Environment Agency began publishing catchment flood management plans (CFMPs) for each of England’s river basin districts to plot out who and what was at risk of flooding, whether that be residential housing, businesses, bridges, transformers and so on.

Taking a holistic view of resilience, where all hazards are addressed, offers a better understanding of the unforeseen consequences of building new developments, and helps to show where to avoid the accretion of people and infrastructure.

Beyond the UK

This is especially important in less developed countries that are undergoing vast economic and population growth.

To that end, Atkins has been working closely with the Southern African Development Community – an intergovernmental union of 15 nations that stretches as far north as the Democratic Republic of the Congo – as well as other countries on the continent to review how flooding may affect urban areas as well as rural populations, to predict impacts of different events and to determine what plans can be made to prevent flood damage, to limit construction in at risk areas and to support more rapid recovery from extreme events.
In Kenya, part of that work has involved raising people’s awareness of their own impact on their surroundings. “As the population has grown, more and more land has been put under the plough,” says Woolgar of those farming along the River Nzoia, which flows into Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake.

“If you don’t manage land with an understanding of drainage and flooding, you lose sediment. Sometimes it runs into the lake and sometimes it just sits in the river. When the river flow drops, water percolates down through the sediment and flows beneath it and then hydraulically compacts the sediment, making it harder. So the next flood that comes along doesn’t wash much of that away and you gradually get more deposits in the river, reducing capacity and increasing flooding.”

Woolgar explains that it’s important to help others understand such problems and – more importantly – their contribution to the solutions, rather than simply give instructions.

“A lot of risk reduction is about how you help the world’s most vulnerable people protect themselves.”

COMING SOON: Disaster resilience in the United States.

You can read more from Mike Woolgar here, and if you’d like to receive more articles like this in a regular monthly newsletter, sign up here.

UK & Europe,

Inspirational women from Atkins are working on some of the world’s most exciting projects from tunnels in Hong Kong to master planning in Oman, and they hope that their experiences will encourage more young women to consider a career in engineering.

Historically women have been a minority in the engineering sectors but a variety of campaigns and initiatives are seeking to increase the proportion of females in the industry as global demand for infrastructure puts pressure on skills. At the same time companies such as Atkins are working hard to find and retain talented women to enable a diversity of thinking and approach within the company. However a lack of awareness about the opportunities in the industry is widely regarded as a critical issue and women from around the Atkins’ regions are keen to highlight the advantages of working in engineering and infrastructure. “The best thing about working in this industry is the variety, every project has different issues and stakeholders, it’s always exciting, ” says Dalal Darwish, social development consultant in Oman for Atkins in the Middle East. A biology graduate, Dalal joined Atkins in 2008. “I really wanted to join Atkins because of its reputation and its international span. I wanted to work on bigger projects and here my opportunities are broad,” she says explaining that she has been able to work with teams on projects across the Middle East.

As part of the masterplanning team Dalal spends her time working with stakeholders to understand the complex issues affecting projects supported by a multidisciplinary team conducting a range of technical studies and impact assessments. Although she did not originally set out to enter the engineering sector the opportunities drew her in to an industry which in Oman is highly respected. “In Oman engineering is very impressive. I didn’t have much experience in the sector before joining but now I am blessed because I have found my niche.”

One of the challenges for consultants in Oman and other Middle Eastern countries is to draw women engineers into the private sector. Traditionally public bodies have been the key employers and although salaries tend to be lower the hours are shorter which can be a benefit in terms of achieving a happy work-life balance. But Dalal says that the benefits of working for Atkins far outweigh this. “Atkins has been very flexible and I’d like to encourage other ladies to come into the sector. I have learned a lot and I would say that people in the public sector haven’t had the same opportunities and exposure to projects.”

Another Atkins’ engineer to benefit from the flexible working policies is Tiffany Chan, associate director for tunnelling at Atkins in Hong Kong. “I joined Atkins after graduation and I have stayed here for 15 years!” she says explaining that the incredible breadth of projects, challenging work, the team environment and flexibility on offer are all behind her decision to remain with the company. This year Tiffany will take a second maternity break. “In Hong Kong maternity leave depends on your company and Atkins is very good with that.”

Today Tiffany’s work varies between leading the design team for a range of tunnelling schemes and managing projects. “Dealing with the underground space is different every time, anything can happen,” she says. From working with some of the world’s largest tunnel boring machines at 17m in diameter to blasting into the rock of Hong Kong to create new transport corridors, Tiffany finds herself with an array of technical problems to solve. As a student who chose engineering because she loved maths and physics and wanted to do something practical to benefit daily life, there could not be a more fulfilling role.

However, being a female engineer in tunnelling is not without its challenges including a historic superstition that women in tunnels bring bad luck. Ten years ago Tiffany encountered a situation where a contractor asked her to remain outside a tunnel as male engineers went inside. Fortunately she says that attitudes have changed a lot since then, helped by engineering societies in Hong Kong who have been promoting the image of the industry in society. “There are more women coming into the industry. Recently when we interviewed graduates this year we found more females and when you ask about course numbers there are 30 or 40 percent female students, compared to 10 percent when I was at university.”

This trend is also being seen in the UK with rising numbers of female graduates joining Atkins. In fact 25 percent of graduates in the 2014 intake were women, an increase on 2013, and early estimates suggest that figures for 2015 will be significantly higher again. This compares to figures from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) that show that only 6 percent of the UK’s engineering workforce is female. The IET also says that despite calls from government to raise this 43 percent of companies are failing to take specific action to improve diversity. In a recent debate in the House of Lords however, Atkins was recognised for its positive action by Baroness Wall of New Barnet who pointed to a range of measures at the firm including support for women returning to work following maternity or carers leave, the women’s professional network and the women’s leadership council which guide women and act as role models and mentors.

Lesley Waud is a civil engineer and market director for strategic highways in Atkins’ UK transportation business. She says that measures such as this are improving the retention rate of women in the industry, something that is much needed. “I work with a peer group of senior consultants on a big framework and I am the only female representative,” she says. But she expects this to change and notes that there are many capable female technical experts rising up through the business. “What is different today is that we are retaining women. I look at the fact that we offer term time contracts and flexible working if needed. It is a lot easier for a woman to come back to work and make it fit.”

Lesley notes that one of the issues for women at a senior level is a lack of role models – she has only ever had one female boss. But as retention rises this will improve and Lesley is proactive about promoting the profession taking time to visit schools and share her insights.

Another of Atkins’ most senior female engineers, North America based Terry Suehr also encourages female students to become engineers. “I visited a school where the staff asked women to come in and be mentors for young girls who may never have thought of engineering,” says Terry who is both technical director for civil engineering at Atkins in North America and business change leader. She says that she too has benefited from having female mentors. “One to one reach out to women is very helpful. For me it was so beneficial. I had male mentors which who were fantastic but occasionally you want a female perspective because women think differently.”

Before joining the consulting industry Terry spent five years in the US Coastguard, having had her civil engineering degree sponsored by the military. “By the third or fourth year I realised that I was missing something. I really liked the intellectual pursuit of my degree and I realised that I was missing that and so decided to go in to industry.”

Making the link between intellectual challenge and practical application is one of the key aspects that appeals to many engineers including Eva Rindom, managing director of 400 employees within Atkins in Denmark. Winner of a prestigious Danish Society of Engineers award in May this year, Eva is the only female MD among the largest Danish consultancies and she came into the profession following a PhD in mathematical modelling of vehicle dynamics. “I liked maths and I started out on a scientific basis with the PhD but I also learned that I wanted to work with people. It is difficult to say what have been the best things about my role because there is a world of opportunity as an engineer. It is exciting to be able to solve problems that are visible in society.”

And society will always have problems to solve and highlighting the how engineering can play its part is paramount. “People will always need homes, transport systems, power and sanitation,” says Olivia Plunkett, assistant engineer in the water and environment team at Atkins in the UK. “As a civil engineer you get to improve the standard of living for people here and abroad. The work itself can be really rewarding,” she says.

Olivia recently completed the Atkins’ graduate programme and like Dalal says that the variety is the best part of the job. “A typical day really varies which is why I like engineering. I can be working on highways and drainage design, heading to technical team meetings, working with clients on how our design fits in with their aspirations or I could be out on site checking on the progress of work.”

Whether in the Middle East, North America, Europe or Asia Pacific there are many things that the roles of Atkins’ women technical experts have in common from the variety of work, to diverse and major project opportunities, complemented by a flexible working environment. It is not surprising then to hear that all of these inspirational women would like to encourage others into the sector. “It is always exciting. I meet new people and face new challenges and I would like to encourage other ladies into the sector. Don’t hesitate!” says Dalal.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Roads, bridges, stations and parks are built for the public good – so it’s only right that the public should have input into their design and construction. This view has been at the heart of one of Atkins’ most iconic and successful recent projects – Surrey County Council’s A244 bridge over the River Thames at Walton on Thames in the UK.

“The ethos was to design and construct an iconic, new, permanent bridge to replace two life expired temporary bridges,” explains Rob Wheatley, chief engineer for Atkins’ Highways & Transportation business in the UK. “This through an integrated and collaborative team approach involving Surrey County Council (SCC) as client, Costain Ltd as the main contractor and we led the design efforts.”

There have been five bridges at Walton over the years. The first was timber and did not last long, while the second was washed away in a flood. The third bridge suffered damage during the Second World War and was finally demolished in 1985.

Since then, two temporary bridges have served the crossing, which is a vital artery over the Thames, sitting equidistant between Hampton Court and Chertsey Bridges and linking north Surrey with Heathrow and the motorway network. Given its importance, a proper, modern bridge was needed to provide a permanent link across the river and secondly, improve the traffic flow on the approaches to and across the bridge.

Overcoming challenges

The designers faced a number of challenges in their efforts to construct a new road bridge over the Thames to ease congestion while minimising disruption and calming local concerns over the project’s impact. As designer of the project, Atkins had to take into account a range of needs:

  • Requirement to provide an iconic landmark structure that enhances the local environment;
  • A single span structure to improve river navigation and open up views of the River Thames not seen for over 250 years;
  • An improved carriageway to benefit traffic flow on the key strategic route to Heathrow and the local road network;
  • Improved facilities for vulnerable road users by the creation of segregated facilities and end connections;
  • Removal of the two existing temporary bridges crossing the River Thames was required to be undertaken in such a way that it minimised the impact on the river, the environment and the public;
  • Sympathetic paving and landscaping of the Cowey Sale area to blend in with the riverside setting and help to create a traffic calmed area.

Considering the breadth of issues that a new bridge would raise, it was clear from the outset that getting local communities involved in the design of the bridge would be vital. Would the promised benefits be realised? Would the historical beauty and heritage of the area be preserved? Would local communities be affected by the construction process to an unacceptable degree?

To meet these needs, the construction team understood the need to proactively manage the construction process considering both sustainability issues as well as the maintenance of the local benefits historically provided.

Given that, the community’s input formed a cornerstone of the design plans. Atkins addressed concerns in advance so that any subsequent objections would be few and easily met by the design.

As part of the effort, promoter SCC and contractor Costain set about hosting community meetings to explain the challenges and solutions at every stage of the project. The level of detail involved in this was truly remarkable. For example, concerns over the impact on local wildlife were met by including kingfisher, bat and owl boxes, while the colour of the arch was selected specifically to help swans see it (they are short sighted by nature). In addition, invasive plants in the area were cleared out to allow local flora to flourish.

“The initial Public Inquiry in 2006 resulted in the Planning Inspectorate refusing permission and requesting that the junction design at Cowey Sale be looked at again. As a consequence, the design was changed from a clover leaf arrangement to a priority junction layout to increase the amount of prime Open Space being retained,” explains Wheatley. “And that was followed by the reduced arch height, the addition of a permanent cafe/toilet block, a series of timber bridges and mown paths within the Cowey Sale to open the area for the public.”

As an added amenity, extensive landscaping was done throughout the site area, including a new ecological pond, improved facilities to the existing car park in the Cowey Sale as well as better connections for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders between the A244, the Cowey Sale and the Thames Tow Path.

Taking it into account

Naturally, the impact of such a significant construction project on local businesses can threaten to become a real issue with traffic diversions and delays due to works taking place on the road network, and increased congestion caused by construction site-generated traffic.

In order to minimise these, and having taken on board local concerns, a number of measures were put in place during construction.

  • All deliveries were made off-peak and dedicated traffic marshals employed to swiftly and safely remove them from the highway.
  • The river navigation was maintained throughout the construction works. The navigation controls were developed in consultation with the Environment Agency and the local River Users Group. Liaison with the local water sport clubs ensured their needs were addressed and their safe enjoyment of the waterway was maintained.
  • Excessive road closures were avoided, but, where unavoidable, we minimised the impact on traffic congestion. All traffic management was implemented off peak or overnight, extensively advertised in advance through the SCC website, including dedicated project pages, a letter drop to local residents and businesses, press releases to local newspapers and travel alerts on local radio stations. The diversion routes were clearly signed with special advance warning signs advising of the implemented road closure at all strategic junctions.
  • Opportunities for the local community to meet the project team and learn more about the project including the future construction timeline and any possible impact to the public caused by the works, at quarterly Community Engagement meetings.
  • The Thames pathway was maintained through the site along a robust rolled stone diversion with clear signage and child friendly route maps.
  • Pedestrian and cycle routes were maintained across the river.

Throughout all this, a key part of ensuring the bridge was viewed as positive addition to the local landscape was allowing the community to visit and understand how it was being built. Costain made sure guided tours of the construction site were arranged for the public, and organised visits for nearly 1,000 local school children to be escorted around the site and learn about the different roles undertaken by the project team while promoting the opportunities a career in construction can bring through a series of presentations.

After being completed on time and to budget, the new Walton Bridge opened in July 2013. Since then, the reaction from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Feedback from the local business groups has provided a positive indicator of the benefits of both the new bridge and the wider improvements to the area,” says Wheatley. “They include the regeneration in terms of a commercial benefit to businesses on either side of the bridge and the construction of the new bridge has attracted additional people to this part of Surrey who now regularly return now that the project has been completed. This has generated additional customers for local businesses who feel that there will be significant business opportunities in the coming years.”

Surrey County Council Cabinet Member for Transport John Furey said: “Good transport links help businesses grow, so as well as becoming the Thames’ latest landmark, Walton Bridge is also boosting Surrey’s future prosperity.”

Surrounding communities are so proud of their new bridge that some local businesses have even incorporated images of the structure into their company logos as they want to be associated with the new bridge and the area.

The impact on local business and community is not the only lasting legacy of the bridge. The success of the community engagement strategy and suite of communications tools used for this project are to now be included in future major schemes undertaken by SCC. The various communication tools used, ranged from regular update letters, live webcam, dedicated website, visual accessibility of the site, community engagement meetings, directed media coverage, community activities and site progress information boards.

Beyond that, the innovation and consideration that went into the bridge’s design and construction have been recognised by a range of industry bodies. It has already picked up several awards. Judges at the 2014 Institute of Structural Engineers awards singled out Atkins’ work on the bridge as being especially noteworthy.

They said: “This, simple yet elegant, project demonstrates the ability of the design and build process in delivering a high value and delightful bridge. The team worked tirelessly over many years to thoroughly satisfy the changing demands of the project at every level.”

In 2014, the Institute of Civil Engineering (ICE) announced the bridge had won its prestigious London Community Award.

In its commendation, the ICE said: “Walton Bridge strongly demonstrates the benefits of partnership working, with Surrey County Council, Costain and Atkins staff working as a fully integrated team to overcome significant challenges with innovative and effective solutions to deliver a truly exceptional project. Importantly, the team has established the project as part of the local community and has greatly satisfied local residents.”

In addition, the project received the prestigious British Construction Industry Best Practice Award in 2014, in recognition of the efforts of the whole team. This year the project has been shortlisted in the Construction News Awards Project of the Year (£10 to £50 million) category.

You can read more about the Walton Bridge project here, or see one of the many press releases here.

UK & Europe,

Twenty years ago, the Middle East opened its doors to an influx of people and investment. Towns and cities grew in line with development. So too did the road networks and, inevitably, traffic congestion. In Saudi Arabia, older cities like Jeddah and Riyadh can come to a standstill during peak hours, while the current management solutions in Doha in Qatar are struggling to match the rapid rise in the number of cars on the road.

Better connections

To ease the pressure, billions of dollars are being allocated to new rail and metro projects. According to the news and business intelligence service, MEED, every country has announced plans for a scheme. That, it says, equates to more than 33,000km of mainline routes as well as 3,000km of metro. The Middle East is embarking on what Atkins’ Roger Cruickshank describes as a “transport transformation”.

“We’re about to see a huge shift from roads to rail in many of the major cities,” he explains. “And the change is likely to be relatively sudden. If they were being constructed in Europe, large-scale infrastructure projects such as these could take decades to build. Here, they can come to fruition in as little as three or four years.”

One of the most ambitious projects currently underway is the Riyadh Metro. It has six lines (Atkins is the lead designer for three) and 85 stations, and it’s due for completion in 2019 . The metro will link parts of the city that haven’t even been built yet and could open up others that have traditionally been too onerous to reach with ease. This is all part of a wider scheme that also includes a new bus system.

Through their investment, authorities are hoping to get people out of their gas-guzzling vehicles and on to public transport. But forming better connections also helps them achieve wider sustainability aims.

All change?

As the stations take shape, developers throughout the Middle East are being encouraged to seize the opportunity to integrate them into strong, vibrant communities via transit-oriented development (TOD) – the creation of residential and commercial space around transport hubs. It offers attractive development opportunities while delivering benefits for residents, and it’s inherently sustainable.

TOD is well established in places like Hong Kong and Singapore but there are additional challenges to realising the potential of this approach in the Middle East.

“We have to appreciate that some parts of the cities are still in the early stages of development,” says Cruickshank. “That means we need to be flexible and allow for change because the demands of today are not the same as those of tomorrow.”

Cruickshank emphasises the importance of careful planning and balancing the desire for an immediate return on investment with the ability to deliver long-term benefits: “The economy of a nation or a city will change over time. If you create flexibility within a masterplan, particularly in relation to transport, you’re giving developers an opportunity to react when sectors and markets rise and fall. Spaces can be converted to match the shift in demand, without having to start building from scratch. It helps avoid boom and bust scenarios and creates cities that have the resilience to withstand volatility in the market.”

Cruickshank gives the example of a residential tower that is designed with the future in mind. The internal structure and layout would be flexible. If the demand for homes in the area decreases, while office space is at a premium, the building can easily be reconfigured to accommodate a change in use.

This forward-thinking approach allows developers to maintain the viability of their portfolio while the benefits to the city are increased because the schemes are consistently responding to local conditions. On a city-wide scale, flexible design around transport hubs translates into the benefits of development being shared, which helps modulate rental prices and balance construction and investment across a number of areas.

A phased approach

Another city being transformed through its investment in transport infrastructure is Doha. The first phase of the Doha Metro, where Atkins is the lead designer for the Red Line South and Gold Line packages, is currently being constructed. It includes 35 stations, more than 100km of track and has an expected completion date of 2019. The new service will keep the crowds moving during the 2022 FIFA World Cup but the longer-term objective is for the creation of an even bigger network that will stimulate economic development and bring communities together.

The dramatic change in capacity requirements pre- and post-event presents a challenge for planners. But authorities are increasingly looking at the infrastructure they’ll need to help them realise their long-term vision for their countries and improve opportunities for their citizens.

According to Cruickshank, the Doha Metro offers an ideal opportunity to use phased construction to their advantage. People’s response to the first 35 stations and surrounding developments can be gauged and the response used to inform the second stage of metro works, which include another 50 stations.

Lessons learned

The Middle East already has a track record in transit-oriented and sustainable development. Cities that are now planning their metro schemes are looking to Dubai Metro as an example of what could be achieved – six years after its completion, it’s being hailed as a major success. More than 14.8 million journeys were made on the red and green lines of the metro in January 2015 alone. That’s an increase of one million on the same period the year before.

“The success of the metro there has demonstrated that sustainable cities of the future will have public transport schemes at their heart, but the challenge will be ensuring that any new network integrates into the urban environment,” says Cruickshank.

In Dubai, for example, the metro links major destinations, population centres and amenities and services are being expanded to more closely match users’ requirements. The real value of the metro however is arguably that it has made well integrated development with strong public transport connections, attractive public spaces and clear access an expectation, rather than an aspiration.

Imagining a greener future

The incredible level of investment in infrastructure across the Middle East creates opportunities for authorities and developers to build sustainable communities, as well as transport schemes. And Cruickshank believes there is value in thinking big and looking outside the region for inspiration.

“Atkins has worked with clients and partners in China to bring about remarkable change in this area. Our ambitious approach to low carbon development has resulted in state and national planning laws being adapted so sustainable design is being put at the heart of policy.”

Around the world authorities are being forced to consider how their cities will respond to the increasing number of challenges we’re facing. Rapid urbanisation, the need to diversify economies, find alternative energy sources, and address climate change mean that action is needed now if we’re to create the successful cities we desire.

Middle East & Africa,

We are at an unprecedented point in the cycle of energy supply: demand is expected to increase by 35 per cent by 2035 and in many regions around the world, existing energy infrastructure is coming to the end of its life and must be replaced. New safe, reliable, affordable, large scale power capacity will require technical innovation and smart practical energy choices by governments, individuals and businesses.

This is nothing new, but beyond the age old supply and demand challenge, we must now also generate power using less carbon. Add to this an accelerating pace of advancements in technology, international collaboration, and economic challenges and opportunities. There are more buyers and sellers, more competition — and more options — than ever before.

All of these conditions provide a compelling opportunity to make our future energy systems truly extraordinary. On the front line of keeping old infrastructure going and bringing new low carbon technologies to the grid, it’s the engineers who are transforming the possibilities and “keeping it real”.

The possibilities

Despite the rise of renewables, the global energy mix remains carbon intensive: more than 80 per cent of the world’s energy continues to come from oil, gas and coal.

Decarbonising the energy system presents huge challenges. But it also gives us an unprecedented opportunity to create a system that is smarter, safer and more secure than the traditional carbon-burning alternative.

Many of the renewable and low-carbon technologies needed to bring about this change – including wind, solar, nuclear and biomass – are already established. One of the biggest questions for engineers, says Martin Grant, CEO of Energy at Atkins, is getting the mix right.

“The debate tends to get polarised. The various energy sources available to us should not be considered mutually exclusive. Our view is that you need a mix of sources. Oil and gas will have to remain an important part of the mix in the medium term, but we need to be using less and we need to be looking more closely at technologies like carbon capture and storage to mitigate carbon impact.”

Gas is widely used for electricity generation, partly because of its low price and partly because emissions are half those produced by coal-fired power stations.

The continuing attraction of gas is underlined by shale initiatives in the US and by growing interest in offshore resources. The global energy giants recognise the importance of gas as a long-term play, a point emphasised recently by Royal Dutch Shell’s £47 billion bid for BG Group.

“We will need to continue to extract oil and gas, and we need to try and do that economically,” says Grant. “And we will need to use more gas than oil.”

The challenges associated with oil and gas are formidable: political instability in producing regions and crude price volatility are among them. “It’s difficult to manage an industry where six months ago the commodity was worth more than US$100 a barrel and recently it was half that,” says Grant.

The average age of a coal-fired plant in the US is 42 years; in the UK, the ten biggest coal-fired power stations are more than 40 years old. Finding greener ways to sweat these assets makes sense.

“Biomass conversion is a success story,” says Grant. “The only limitation is how much genuinely renewable feedstock you can get.”

Nuclear power will be a key component of the low-carbon future. Despite concerns about nuclear generation triggered by the Fukushima disaster in Japan and Germany’s subsequent decision to abandon nuclear power, global interest in nuclear energy is regaining momentum. China, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the UK are all pursuing projects. “Nuclear is such a big part of the future energy mix that the challenge is just to do it quicker and cheaper – and to do more of it.”

Long term, nuclear fusion could be the answer. Fusion – the process that powers the sun – promises safe and potentially limitless energy. “Atkins is helping to build the experimental ITER fusion reactor in France – and that moves us closer,” says Grant. “But it’s 30 or 40 years away from going commercial. Fusion is a gift to future generations. Right now we have to look at other things.”

Those other things are renewables – including offshore and onshore wind, tidal and solar – which are likely to become even more important in the future.

“The big solar programmes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are exciting,” says Grant. “The neat thing about solar in this context is you get maximum power when you’ve got maximum demand, because everybody turns up the air conditioning when the sun shines. And it’s close to grid parity – it’s similar in cost to electricity generated by conventional means.”

In northern Europe, there is less synchronisation between supply and demand: increased power requirements in the higher latitudes are associated with cold rather than hot weather. The weather systems that trigger icy winter days – anticyclones – are associated with low wind speeds, so output from windfarms is minimal.

In spite of this, the success of renewables continues to confound the sceptics. Renewables were the biggest contributor to Germany’s electricity supply in 2014, providing more than 27 per cent of output. In the UK, meanwhile, renewable electricity generation increased to a new record of 22 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Innovation will help to drive down costs. In the case of offshore wind, for example, the development of floating turbines could transform construction and maintenance – turbines can be built on land and then towed out to sea. They can also be towed back to shore again for overhauls, dramatically reducing costs, complexity and risk.

“Offshore wind is a big part of the solution. Tidal barrages, such as the one proposed for Swansea in Wales, also have a part to play. These things are expensive but the point is that the technology is well understood and we can generate large quantities of completely green electricity – and the cost will come down over time.”

The realities

“As engineers, when we look at the cost of new nuclear and some renewable technologies on a per megawatt basis, they are at this point in time, at least twice the cost of traditional generation methods,” says Grant. “To say that tomorrow we want exactly the same thing – energy there all the time – but we want it produced in a different way because we don’t want the planet to be destroyed and we want it to cost less, is unrealistic. How likely is it that this thing you want that’s better is not going to cost more? Unless you are incredibly lucky.”

As the majority of the UK’s existing infrastructure is decades old, the initial capital cost to build it has in a sense already been paid for. The cost of building the replacement new infrastructure that is needed to power the UK in the future is expensive compared to the ongoing running costs of the older assets. All of that means that in the long-term the wholesale cost of electricity has to go up.

Innovation has given us the opportunity to bring low carbon electricity into the mix. In the future, the gift of innovation will be low cost electricity. But the cycles of innovation are long and it’s important to understand the timescales – probably 20 to 30, 40 years.

What the future energy mix will look like remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the accelerating pace of technological and engineering achievement will reap extraordinary energy rewards for future generations.

North America, UK & Europe,

On first glance, the two sites could be mistaken for elegant municipal parks. Living roofs and grass pavers are complemented by a cascading water feature at the first site and, at the second, a rain garden. Sewage pumping stations may not be associated with beauty, but this novel development in Hong Kong’s Kowloon City district challenges those assumptions.

After sitting down with the government’s Drainage Services Department, Atkins embarked on an investigation into how best to upgrade an aged sewage system. According to Atkins’ technical director Xiao Ying, it was the innovative architectural design concept that won the tendering process.

Space comes at a premium in Hong Kong. A population of 7.2 million people must share just 1104 km2 of land, much of which is made up of hilly terrain. Of course, if the development was sited in a sparsely populated rural area there would have been less impetus to break the mould. The Kai Tak Development in the south-east of Kowloon, where the project was undertaken, is anything but rural. The site of Hong Kong’s former international airport, the area was levelled after the port was moved to neighbouring Lantau Island in Hong Kong’s western waters in 1998. As part of the urban reclamation, a new cruise ship terminal, housing, and commercial and entertainment developments are in various stages of completion.

“In the future, high rise commercial developments are going to be constructed in the surrounding area and the Drainage Services Department was worried that people might not be happy with a typical sewage station facade in view,” says Jeffery Chan, project engineer on the assignment. “They were willing to pursue an architectural design that was totally unique. They were willing to go further to invest in something that was extraordinary.”

One option was to build the pumping stations underground, keeping them entirely out of sight: “We considered this at the design stage among other scenarios,” says Chan. “We talked it through with the operations people, but the system relies on a process that means it is not possible to put everything totally underground. For instance, the power transformer must be above ground because if there is a power failure there is a risk of flooding, which would cause too much damage.”

Instead, the new builds were sunken, thus keeping the obstruction of the surroundings to an absolute minimum. Even then, nearly half of the combined project’s surface area is covered in greenery and soft landscaping.

The project’s strengths don’t solely lie in its lush aesthetics. Energy efficient features including solar panels and skylights were installed at both stations, as were rainwater harvesting systems. As ambitious infrastructure projects continue to propel China’s plateauing economy, sustainability is being put front and centre.
Such features have won the project deserved recognition. The stations have already been provisionally awarded a platinum BEAM (Building Environmental Assessment Method) rating. As such they went on to become finalists in Hong Kong’s Green Building Awards 2014, not to mention the Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects bestowing the project with a silver award.

Above all else, however, the project serves its much needed primary function. When it comes to water pollution, Hong Kong, which translates to “fragrant harbour”, is going all out. The world’s largest underground pumping station is currently being constructed in West Kowloon to eliminate Ecoli found in sewage discharged into Victoria Harbour, the central waterway bisecting Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Ageing sewage infrastructure has not been helping this cause.

“The existing system receives raw sewage from a population of around 200,000 people,” says Chan. This equates to nearly three per cent of Hong Kong’s entire population. “Over the years a major problem developed, with sewage overflowing into the water system leading to Victoria Harbour causing some degree of pollution. That’s why the government decided to build a sewage interception scheme, to clean up the water. It intercepts sewage from seven points by using a pumping system to convey the sewage directly downstream, thereby bypassing the old system.”

Farther afield

China is not alone in seeking novel regeneration solutions that solve basic infrastructure needs while simultaneously appeasing the NIMBY (“not in my back yard”) crowd. It is increasingly common for design and engineering companies to offer innovative and creative designs that are harmonious with their surroundings and avoid essential facilities blighting the landscape in populated areas.

This thinking was crucial when Atkins won its bid for the £25m development of the Easter Bush education and research campus at Edinburgh University in Scotland. The project comprises a flagship hub for the campus as well as an energy centre and substation and will begin construction in the next month.

“Because the Easter Bush campus has an agricultural, rural setting our brief was to come up with a building that was not necessarily a replica science park type arrangement with a three or four storey building and car parking round about it,” says Neil McLean, Atkins’ associate director and head of architecture for Scotland. “It needed to be car free, pedestrian friendly and the focus of the campus, plus very much evocative of its surroundings.”

Merging the building design with its environment was achieved by incorporating natural stone and living walls to be made using local plants. Even the modern aspects will feature flourishes, with a leaf pattern designed into the outer glass facade of the elliptical half of the research hub.

Additionally, the energy centre had to be future-proofed to heat and cool both the existing buildings and also future sites as part of the university’s aspiring 2025 master plan to expand Easter Bush to the size of its other four campuses. Instead of settling for a boxy, utilitarian design, Atkins split the energy and refuse functions in a central steading and adopted the same kind of natural stone and timber traditionally used in local farming builds in the area.

Finally, an electricity substation connecting the two was treated as a landmark rather than a run of the mill unit. As well as a living wall, the station will feature an opaque backlit wall that will act as a beacon to light one of the main access routes onto the campus for vehicles and pedestrians. Such touches are as much about form as function.

Indeed, McLean notes that in the very best designs the two should not compete, but rather complement each other. “For example, with the central building we went for a mixed mode cooling solution and that requires openable vents, for which instead of having openable windows we will have laser-cut stainless steel panels which match the leaf patterning on the wall glazing. So it’s a sophisticated approach where the stylistic choices are embedded in the engineering.”

New ways of thinking

Back in China, the country has poured money into construction and infrastructure in recent years as a means to bolster economic growth, which after years of steep ascent has inevitably begun to decelerate. To that end, the mainland government is embarking on one of its most ambitious construction drives yet: a total of 300 projects valued at $1.1 trillion have been greenlit for development between now and late 2016.

Under China’s “one country, two systems” rule, Hong Kong has control over the future of its own infrastructure, which, due to the special administrative region’s finite space, is in a state of perpetual development. Government projections put annual public spending on such projects at more than HK$70bn ($9bn) over the next few years, compared to a yearly average of HK$21bn in recent years.

It is also home to some of the boldest projects. When Hong Kong transplanted its airport from Kowloon to Lantau Island, it pulled down a mountain to make way for the new terminals and runways. It is now working on linking itself up to neighbouring Macau, situated 30km to the west, with a vast bridge that will be among the biggest in the world. Then, of course, there’s its aforementioned Victoria Harbour clean-up initiative.

Wherever possible Hong Kong and mainland China’s governments will be seeking to prioritise aesthetics and the importance of design, and projects such as Kowloon’s Sewage Interception Scheme are setting a precedent of distinction for the future.

“Even at the time we took on the project there was no requirement for this kind of innovative design concept at all,” says Xiao Ying. “Now it’s different. There is now more emphasis on the appearance of new infrastructure projects. The government wants them to be more appealing and integrate into the landscape.”

In Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, Atkins’ goal to create an “Oasis for the Soul” has been fully realised. The city will now be hoping for more oases to come.

Asia Pacific,

The United States National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) provides coverage for more than 5.5 million policyholders and protects assets worth an estimated $1.2 trillion. Launched in 1968, it is one of the biggest insurance programs in the world.

As well as offering a lifeline to millions of homeowners (standard domestic insurance policies in the US do not cover flood losses), the NFIP plays a vital role in flood prevention. To qualify for coverage, participating communities must agree to adopt planning policies to reduce the risk of flooding.

Pinpointing where flood risks lie depends on accurate mapping. Production of flood maps – known as FIRMs (Federal Insurance Rate Maps) – is the responsibility of the US government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FIRMs carry statutory weight and are used extensively by local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as by insurance companies, businesses, and property owners.

Mapping is carried out on a vast scale; since the creation of the NFIP, FEMA has undertaken more than one million miles of mapping. Atkins has played a leading role in the NFIP since 1999, as a map coordination contractor, mapping contractor, and production and technical services contractor.

Mapping the unknown

Flood hazard mapping is a complex business. Unlike conventional cartography, which deals with visible and easily-measured landscape features such as roads and hills, flood mapping is concerned with transient, relatively rare events. FEMA’s benchmark is the 100-year flood – a flood that has a one percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. In many cases, the areas being mapped have not experienced such a major flood in living memory.

To determine the extent of the floodplain, engineers must carry out a detailed analysis using a range of data sets. These include discharge rates (the volume and speed of water moving through a river), river channel characteristics, and topography. By combining this and other data, it’s possible to plot the floodplain with a high degree of accuracy. But it’s painstaking work that involves enormous amounts of data.

“Conventional mapping tools are accurate, but they’re not quick,” explains Leo Kreymborg, senior engineer at Atkins. “A lot of the steps have to be done by hand, so you’re bringing layers in one at a time and entering data manually. It’s a very time-consuming process.”

Two major policy changes governing the way US flood maps are produced and supplied brought the need to find a quicker and more accurate floodplain mapping method into focus.

The first was FEMA’s Flood Map Modernization program, a presidential initiative that heralded the shift from paper to digital maps. This provided an opportunity to not only upgrade the way maps were stored and shared, but also to extend coverage and to review the accuracy of the information held on existing maps.

The second was the adoption of a stringent new accuracy requirement known as the Floodplain Boundary Standard (FBS). Introduced in 2005, the FBS imposed strict new rules on the agreement between topographic data and the floodplains derived from that data. “The FBS effectively eliminated several previously common and acceptable methods of creating flood maps, and required vast amounts of modelling and re-modelling of floodplains,” says Michael DePue, vice president at Atkins.

Back in 2005, digital techniques had already transformed conventional mapmaking, but little progress had been made in streamlining the floodplain delineation process. The tools available for flood mapping still required considerable engineering setup and analysis time for each mile studied.

Could there be a better way to create flood maps? Kreymborg believed there was. He set about creating a tool to carry out simple floodplain analysis using higher levels of automation.

The result – the Rapid Floodplain Delineation (RFD) tool – was a game changer. “Once we had RFD, we were several times faster overnight – doing not only the same quality of work, but a better quality of work,” says DePue. “The technology jump with RFD was really substantial.”

Kreymborg’s next move was to devise a method for calculating ineffective flow areas on the fly and to modify them through a series of increasingly accurate computations – a feature of RFD that remains unsurpassed to this day.

RFD’s capabilities soon began to attract attention. Following discussions with FEMA Regions and the States of Michigan, Minnesota, and Georgia, the RFD tool was used to map thousands of miles of floodplains. “Today, if you are looking at a flood map in any of these states, there is a high probability that the data on that map was developed with RFD,” says DePue.

Mapping for growth

As well as delineating floodplains faster, RFD is bringing down the cost of mapping. Atkins’ figures – based on similar contracts carried out before and after RFD was adopted – suggest that the cost of floodplain mapping with RFD is between 50 and 75 percent lower than it would be using conventional methods.

RFD’s low cost puts accurate flood mapping within the reach of previously uncharted regions. An early demonstration project covering the Murray-Darling basin in southeastern Australia underlined the ability of RFD to provide cost-effective results.

“Large parts of the world have flood analysis needs, but relatively low population densities, making it is difficult to justify the return on investment,” says DePue. “Prior to RFD, you didn’t have a lot of good choices in areas like that, whereas now you’re really using the same method as you would in a very densely populated area, just with a lower level of input information and for a fraction of the cost.”

This matters because a lack of information about flood risk means that in many parts of the world, potentially viable areas, are effectively off limits from an economic development perspective. Without reliable data about flood risk, insurers won’t insure, lenders can’t lend, and businesses are left wringing their hands.

“By using RFD, you would be able to create a defensible and scientific basis for providing insurance,” notes DePue. “You would also be able to identify new areas for investment.”

As well as charting new areas quickly and accurately, RFD can be used to get more out of existing investments in mapping.

“For FEMA, we’re reexamining existing studies to determine whether they’re still valid or not,” says DePue. “The speed of RFD allows you to look at ‘what if’ scenarios. What if the discharge were to drop 20 percent? What would that do to the floodplains? Over large areas, that’s usually very difficult to calculate, but RFD makes it much easier.”

RFD’s what-if capabilities are also helping to evaluate green infrastructure – anti-flooding measures that aim to capture and retain urban rainwater runoff before it reaches rivers. Atkins recently completed such a project for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We were able to make some assumptions about how green infrastructure would affect the runoff and then plug those new numbers into the hydraulic models to get floodplains,” explains Kreymborg. “So we’d have a before and after floodplain, with green infrastructure and without. By comparing those two floodplains, we were able to come up with estimates of flood hazard losses avoided in large events.”

RFD represents a major technical achievement, and its contribution to the understanding of floodplains is significant. Kreymborg, though, is modest about his brainchild.

“We had work that needed to be done, and it seemed like it was taking too long,” he says. “So we came up with a better way to do it.”

North America,

Imagine a typical city in Asia, with unexceptional transport links, heavy traffic during peak hours and a growing population. For residents, getting from A to B isn’t a question of luxury or convenience: for most, it’s a necessary daily grind.

This situation is particularly true in many emerging Asian Pacific economies, where rising wealth and vehicle ownership has far outstripped infrastructure investment, leading to crippling bottlenecks.

What could be done to change that picture, in a sustainable way, for everyone’s benefit? As technology evolves, the answer may be just around the corner.

Technology is already influencing commuter choices and behaviours in many cities in Asia Pacific from the growth of online taxi booking offered by innovative companies like Uber to the rise in smart journey planners, but these individual activities also reflect a potential new approach to travel planning.

The emergence of “mobility as a service” (MaaS) – the interaction of information and technology, coupled with a rise in sharing-based economies – offers a new and more connected approach to influencing travel behaviour and the players in the industry, policies, and vice versa.

MaaS provides a single platform that combines all transport options in a simple and integrated way. Its aim is to get customers from A to B, rather than focusing on individual transport modes and services.

How will MaaS change the way we view our travel options? We asked three experts in Asia Pacific for their views on this changing transport landscape.

Jonathan Spear, technical director with Atkins in Asia Pacific

Mobility has already undergone several revolutions. During the first industrial revolution in Europe and North America in the 19th century, railways and fixed public transport networks supported the concentration of population and employment within newly emerging cities.

In the 20th century, the emergence of mass produced private motor vehicles underpinned the suburbanisation of these cities and decentralisation of activities into the surrounding countryside, encouraged by growing consumer choice, freedom of movement and desire for an enhanced quality of life.

Yet the growth in travel demand, combined with rapid motorisation, has also led to pressing and universal urban challenges for travellers, communities and public agencies. Traffic congestion has become endemic, imposing costs and inconvenience on private and public transport users alike. Rising car ownership and urban sprawl have eroded the countryside and stretched the physical and financial viability of fixed transit networks. Hundreds of thousands are killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents each year and those without access to a private car have seen their access to opportunities fall behind. And the reliance of the transport sector on fossil fuels has contributed to deteriorating air quality and growing greenhouse gas emissions, with implications for public health, ecosystems and the global climate.

Intelligent mobility offers a new, exciting and rapidly accelerating paradigm – through increasingly autonomous, connected and clean vehicles, personalised travel information and demand-responsive travel. While the range of new business models and players, blurring of the public and private sectors and the sharing of data will inevitably be disruptive, the ultimate prize is to put customer choice and experience first, deliver sustainable economic growth, and equalise and democratise opportunity for all citizens.

It is clear, however, realising these benefits cannot rely on the old methods; cities will need to scan multiple technologies, anticipate a range of potential future outcomes, continuously innovate and reinvent themselves, and assemble collaborative partnerships across government, academia and industry to drive effective action. As different approaches and business models are tested, a body of best practice, adapted to local circumstances and consumer markets, will eventually start to emerge. In that respect, the next two decades promise to be very exciting indeed.

In Asia Pacific, urbanisation is taking place faster than anything ever seen in Europe or North America, producing massive mobility challenges. In developing solutions, cities are likely to grasp the opportunities of intelligent mobility at different extents and speeds. The region already includes recognised cases such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul, which have achieved world class outcomes in terms of urban mass transit, transport demand management and integration between land use and transport.

Moreover, with high levels of smartphone take-up, Asia is home to many current and yet-to-emerge technology companies and service providers that will power the new mobility revolution, support infrastructure investment and enable journeys which are increasingly informed, personalised and adaptive. To this extent, many Asian cities and their citizens will prosper from the new paradigm.

Other cities, crucially many in China and India, will struggle – especially those most vulnerable to ecological degradation and climate change. This is a result of limited data processing and communication technology as well as inadequate financing and delivery models for multi-modal infrastructure and operations. Moreover, inflexible regulatory frameworks can stifle innovation and weak institutional arrangements do little to promote collaborative behaviours between public agencies or with the private sector.

Latterly, it is these policy, legal and regulatory factors, together with the absence of strong civic vision and leadership and system-level stakeholder collaboration, which will be as decisive in determining successful outcomes in the brave new world of intelligent mobility as the adoption of any given technology, infrastructure or system solution.

Jonathan Spear has more than 20 years’ experience in transport policy, strategy and institutional advice. He has worked for Atkins in London, Dubai and is currently based in Hong Kong. As well as representing the company on the Council of the European Transport Association, he has actively supported the work of two Technical Committees of the World Road Association, focused on institutional integrity and multi-modal governance.

Andrew Hodgson, associate director with Atkins in Asia Pacific

In Asia Pacific, transport choices often relate to far more complex considerations than time, cost and accessibility. Climate also plays a key role, as do cultural considerations, which influence how people view modes of transport, whether it’s the perceived prestige of car ownership in many emerging economies, or religious sensitivities of men and women travelling together on public transport.

MaaS is an interesting response to these issues, and looks to the private sector to spearhead a revolution in transportation.

Data is the key to MaaS, and there are few places in the world where technology and the “internet of things” are more prevalent than Asia. 4G data connections are common in underground metro lines and free wifi is often available in shopping malls and public districts. Across Asia, people are highly connected, whether sitting in restaurants posting images of their meal or watching high definition TV while sitting on a bus.

Live data is everywhere and people already rely on it heavily in their daily lives. Even within economies under state-enforced restrictions or coping with rudimentary infrastructure, innovative ways are often invented to circumvent problems. The question for this region is therefore less about the availability of data, but more about how it will be embraced by society and governments alike.

In Hong Kong, for example, the public transport network is already incredibly advanced and, alongside the high cost of car ownership, this has led to a real estate premium in being close to mass transit. Octopus travel cards allow travel across multiple public transport modes (train, metro, tram, ferry), and can just as easily be used to buy a pint of milk or open the security gate in your office building.

The line between transport and society is blurred, where cheap and accessible public transport is already approaching commoditisation. No better example is the MTR Corporation, which operates the city’s metro infrastructure. The majority of the organisation’s annual profit (a word not normally associated with public transport agencies) comes from property development associated with their stations.

The question is, how will people respond to a new approach to transport? One of the most important considerations would be how MaaS could put in place a service level agreement to a subscriber, without knowing the exact journeys they need to take and when they need them.

This could require extra (and often redundant) capacity in the system, although incentives would go some way in converging demand and supply on a continuous basis. Incentives are already commonplace in advanced transport systems, such as the ERP charging tariffs in Singapore, or the travel card touch-points on key streets in Hong Kong, which incentivise walking to the metro. It is therefore important to research the potential demand response as MaaS becomes more sophisticated, and more importantly to determine how this differs from region to region and country to country.

The other angle is, of course, how governments will respond to a change in the status quo. An often cited early entrant to this market is Uber, which is already operating in Hong Kong. However, as existing taxis are ubiquitous and cheap, and mass transit even more so, early signs are that this is becoming a service restricted to less accessible destinations, or where a more prestigious journey is sought. So far there is little sign of a need, or desire for, a greater step change to develop an integrated public/private transport system.

In other Asian countries, the potential government response is also unclear. Should MaaS be met with restrictions rather than collaboration, it may need to first develop a critical mass. A number of cities, for example, already have a black market of taxi drivers, recognisable solely by the small red lights hung from the interior mirror. While not an image of best practice, like the innovation shown by users wishing better communications access, alternatives will clearly be sought.

But more importantly, should MaaS be able to demonstrate a social, financial and environmental benefit, this may be the missing piece in the jigsaw that is needed to cut the regions crippling congestion, tackle the dangerous levels of smog experienced in Asian cities on a daily basis, as well as becoming an exciting prospect for emerging economies that rely heavily on foreign investment to pay for much needed infrastructure.

Andrew Hodgson has over 14 years’ experience in network planning and demand forecasting. Previously managing Atkins’ specialist Pedestrian Planning business in London and Transport Planning team in India, now from a Hong Kong base he is leading transport planning advisory projects, predominately for mass transit feasibility studies and private developer investments in Asia Pacific.

Cameron MacDonald, associate director with Atkins in Asia Pacific

Cities in Asia Pacific vary considerably in their transport offerings and, therefore, in their likely responses to the provision of MaaS.

On the one hand, cities like Hong Kong and Singapore provide affordable, connected and integrated multi-modal public transport networks supported by policy frameworks that complement low levels of car reliance and ownership. The case for MaaS is perhaps weakened in societies that are already highly mobile, although citizens of these cities are certainly wedded to their smart phones, and bespoke services such as Uber have managed to make an impact and find a particular niche in Hong Kong. The challenge for highly regulated Singapore will be to what extent such systems will be permitted to operate autonomously.

On the other hand, developing mega-cities such as Ho Chi Min City, Bangkok, Jakarta and numerous others in China, which are groaning under the weight of private motorised transport usage, have already become victims of “unintelligent mobility”. While these cities seek smarter means of mobility, they have to cope with weak institutional arrangements and inflexible regulatory frameworks, along with a relative lack of data and processing. These will challenge the introduction of MaaS concepts. That said, one of MaaS’ apparent strengths is its use of private sector resources to address these challenges.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in implementing MaaS in Asia Pacific is in effecting the transport network capacity enhancements implicit in the literature. Incentivising peak spreading as a way of making better use of existing transport infrastructure is laudable, but cultural sensitivities around working hours may hamper the best intentions of service providers. Also, while increased sharing of vehicles may well result in more efficient means of matching transport supply and demand, it will not necessarily limit traffic congestion in cities where the morning commuter peak in particular is rigid and pronounced.

Asia Pacific is tech-savvy and progressive, providing an ideal platform for MaaS. With the right mix of private sector ingenuity, bespoke regulatory reform as well as consideration of cultural sensitivities peculiar to the Region, MaaS presents as an interesting approach to addressing the mobility issues of Asia Pacific’s cities.

Cameron MacDonald has worked in the region for over 20 years and witnessed first-hand in that time the deterioration in life quality in many of its cities in terms of increasing traffic congestion, community severance and environmental degradation.

For more information on MaaS, you can download a new white paper, Journeys of the Future, written by the UK Transportation’s intelligent mobility team at Atkins here.

> To continue the discussion on Intelligent Mobility, please join our dedicated LinkedIn Group

Asia Pacific, UK & Europe,

A report by the World Bank published in 2012 found that, on average, each city dweller generates over a kilogram of municipal solid waste (MSW) every day – this is the rubbish collected by local authorities that we produce, as do offices, schools and shops. Across the globe, it equates to 1.3 billion tonnes per year. Over the next decade the volume is predicted to double as the population continues to grow.

According to Dr Craig Edgar, head of renewable energy in Atkins’ power business, it’s time to think beyond our traditional responses: “Rapid urbanisation, particularly in the developing world is taking place against the backdrop of an increasing awareness of our finite resources as well as a requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment we live in,” he says. “And this extends to the way we manage our waste. Meeting the demands of more and more people, with cleaner, greener technology will require innovation.”

What’s being proposed demonstrates that one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure. It’s building on our existing approach to waste management to address another challenge associated with rapid urbanisation. That is, energy supply and security.

For many years, developed nations around the world have used MSW and commercial and industrial (C&I) waste to generate electricity, and sometimes heat. For example, the energy that is recovered through incineration is sold back to the grid or passed on to local consumers. But to limited effect. In the UK, for example, only 2.5 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity was generated in this way in 2012, compared with total supply of 376 TWh.

There are many reasons for not exploiting this potential energy source. The facilities needed to support this approach are usually large-scale and rely on mass burn technology, which is rarely popular with local residents. And overall, it requires a significant investment in infrastructure and the resources needed to maintain the operation. It’s the sort of thing many of us take for granted – our bins are emptied by local authorities each week, and we put our recycling out for kerbside collection. But in developing nations where waste management strategies are less developed, this is not always straightforward.

New technology is emerging that may increase the benefits of producing energy from waste and make it more accessible. Advanced thermal treatment (ATT), uses pyrolysis and/or gasification to process raw waste, chemically altering it in low or no oxygen environments to convert it to gaseous fuel that can then be combusted for energy or used as a chemical feedstock. These technologies themselves are not new (we were making town gas from coal this way nearly 100 years ago), but building and operating these facilities to produce energy from waste is only just starting to take off.

“The difference is that it’s not burning material in the same way as we have done for hundreds of years,” explains Edgar. “You can store the gaseous fuel from the conversion process, inject it back into the gas grid, or combust it to create electricity and heat. You can also use the fuel to make organic materials that might currently derive from oil, or to make hydrogen to power fuel cells. The technology can be adapted to generate the most useful energy source.”

ATT plants are often smaller scale and modular, which allows them to be implemented more widely, and they can offer better emissions performance than traditional incineration facilities. Yet they’re still considered to be relatively unproven technology.

“At the moment it can be difficult to get financing for new plants,” says Edgar. “From an engineering perspective, the technology works. But it is only now starting to be proven commercially. The challenges we need to address are around developing more and bigger projects, but fundamentally, there is a need to do something with the volume of waste we’re creating. And this is a process that will allow us to deliver value, whether it’s through the production of fuel, products or energy.”

The Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants estimates that in 2012 there were 456 facilities across Europe, and collectively they prevented about 79 million tonnes of residual waste from going to landfill. Other facilities are under construction. But there are still very few ATT plants in operation in Europe.

However, some operators are forging ahead. Air Products, the large US integrated gases and chemicals company, is about to open the largest advanced plasma gasification energy facility in the world. The plant is near Billingham in the north east of England. Construction of a second identical scheme is also well underway, and together they will provide just under 100MW of renewable electricity generated from waste, which would be enough to power up to 100,000 homes. It will also stop 700,000 tonnes of household waste going to landfill each year.

The Air Products team worked closely with Atkins to address some of the environmental and social aspects of the project. Stephen Bradley, Air Products’ environmental advisor, European Environment, Health, Safety and Quality Management (EHSQ), explains the approach: “Collaboration was critical to bringing a project of this size and complexity to fruition. Inevitably, we did encounter challenges as we sought to implement this new technology, but we drew on the expertise of our wider team to find solutions. That included navigating the regulatory environment and presenting a robust case to achieve planning consent.

We hope the successful integration of advanced plasma gasification into our operations will encourage others to adopt a similar strategy,” he says. As Bradley points out, this is very much a multidisciplinary challenge.

Atkins is also working with Energos, who have also developed an ATT technology involving gasification of waste, to help deliver an advanced conversion facility as part of Viridor and Glasgow City Council’s £146 million Glasgow Recycling and Renewable Energy Centre. When the facility opens next year it will process the leftover post-recycled waste to generate enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of 22,000 households and heat the equivalent of 8,000 homes. Atkins also supports New Earth Solutions Group with their operational pyrolysis/gasification ATT scheme in Avonmouth.

As with anything new, there are a lot of risks associated with being innovative, and seeing a return on your investment. Atkins’ work with several leaders in the industry to develop ATT projects is aimed at minimising the risks they face as they try to embed this new technology. And according to Atkins’ Paul Yates, who is a client director in Atkins’ water and environment business, their success will provide the evidence needed to get more people on board.

“This could be a really important part of our energy mix,” he says. “By maximising the potential of waste-to-energy technology we’re turning the rubbish we all generate into a resource.” Every winter we hear about a potential energy crisis and our over-stretched infrastructure. ATT gives us the opportunity to reduce the pressure on the grid. “For example, if you’re a manufacturer with an energy dependent process and you’re at risk of grid insecurity, developing the resilience you need could be costly,” explains Yates. “However, smaller scale ATT technology may allow you to process the waste you’re generating, which will deliver the electricity or heat you need to keep your operations going. It’s a living example of what the Circular Economy could mean for energy intensive industry.”

For now, the viability of the projects largely depends on the political landscape. The technology is primarily being adopted in areas where there is a government subsidy or incentive. “This is not the cheapest way to produce electricity. So you need to find another way to make this appealing,” explains Edgar.

“There is complex technology involved so getting the costs down will be challenging. The alternative is making other forms of energy more expensive. You can do this by taxing carbon, or putting a price on CO2 emissions. Importantly, waste-to-energy needs to be classified as a renewable fuel source and that’s not always the case right now.”

Edgar adds: “Power is a policy driven market. If one were to simply select the lowest cost option, then there would be far fewer nuclear plants, offshore wind developments and waste-to-energy facilities. In the UK, market disruptors such as landfill tax and ROCs have created a financial driver for the development of advanced thermal treatment plants as a solution to our waste disposal and electrical generation needs. Providing a secure and stable policy environment to encourage investment in renewable technologies is still a huge challenge in the UK. This alongside the larger scale waste collection infrastructure challenges are perhaps the biggest hurdles that will need to be overcome if we are to see widespread adoption of these techniques on a more global scale.”

UK & Europe,

Smart tunnelling

02 Mar 2015

Space in cities is at an ever-increasing premium. With cities now expanding at the rate of one million people per week, the demand for underground infrastructure – such as railways, roads and utilities – is on the rise.

“Cities lack space but there’s no shortage of space underground,” notes Paul Groves, Atkins’ head of tunnelling. “And it’s often cheaper to build below ground than it is to carve up the streets and demolish buildings.”

Creating infrastructure below ground has clear benefits. First, it reduces pressure on valuable surface land, freeing up space for buildings and open spaces. Underground “land” is cheap: in the UK, for example, subsoil acquisition payments to landowners for land deep below the surface can be as little as £50.

Second, tunnelling is less disruptive than building at ground level. Most tunnelling today is carried out using tunnel boring machines (TBMs). It’s the engineering equivalent of keyhole surgery: once access shafts have been sunk and the TBMs put to work, nobody knows they are there. That means business as usual at street level, with no noise nuisance, dust or traffic jams.

Tunnelling renaissance

Cities all over the world are looking below ground in the race to build high-capacity metro systems. Underground rail networks play an important role in combating congestion and spurring economic development – all achieved with minimal land take.

The Middle East is one region where tunnelling know-how is in high demand. Ten years ago, the Middle East had no railways at all. Today, it is the crucible of an urban transport revolution, with governments embarking on ambitious metro projects in the battle to combat car dependency.

The Dubai Metro in the United Arab Emirates is a good example. The 75km network, the world’s longest fully-automated railway, includes more than 12km of tunnels – the first major bored tunnels in the Gulf. Atkins provided detailed tunnelling design for the project, as well as geotechnical and site investigations, viaducts, bridges and specialist services.

“The Middle East is going through a major expansion in its underground facilities and it is a very important market for us,” says Groves. “The rise of metro systems in the region is unprecedented because there are so many of them in one place.”

Elsewhere in the region, Atkins is lead designer for three of the six lines of Saudi Arabia’s planned Riyadh Metro, the largest public transportation project in the world. Atkins is also leading the design of the Gold Line and Red Line South projects, part of the new Doha Metro in Qatar, comprising 32km of underground route.

Demand for tunnelled infrastructure in East Asia is also buoyant. In Hong Kong, Atkins worked on the creation of two key routes – the West Island Line and the Express Rail Link. The works included excavation of deep rock tunnels beneath the highest mountains in Hong Kong.

In the UK, meanwhile, work on the Crossrail project in London is now well advanced, with principal work on the 21km of underground route that comprise the new east-west route nearing completion. Atkins was recently selected as route developer for London’s Crossrail 2 programme to provide a new southwest-northeast link for the UK capital.

In depth

Aside from economic and social drivers, advances in tunnelling technology also make going underground an increasingly attractive and cost-effective option.

“The technology around tunnelling methods is continually improving. We can tunnel safely and with limited disruption to the public and to structures,” says Groves.

Improved materials are also helping, such as tunnel linings – the concrete panels that form the inside layer of freshly excavated bores.

“Better concrete and better reinforcement are helping to reduce costs,” says Groves. Better supply chains also make a difference: “The industry is now able to routinely supply concrete that is stronger than it was 20 or 30 years ago. As a result, we don’t have to worry about pushing the limits so much.”

Changes likes these are helping railway builders to open up parts of cities that were once geological no-go zones. The east of London is a case in point. Most of London’s original deep-level tube lines are concentrated in the easily-excavated clays that lie north and west of the city. But in the east, it’s a different story. The underlying Thanet Sand – a silty, fine-grained sand deposited 60 million years ago – kept the railway builders at bay for decades. Not any more.

“Tunnelling in the Thanet Sand was more difficult,” says Groves. “That’s one of the reasons the underground network is less prevalent in the east. Using current technology, though, there is no particular concern with tunnelling in sand in an urban area. Things are very different from what they were 20 or 30 years ago.”

It’s not only hardware improvements that are transforming tunnelling. Digital collaboration tools also make a difference. One of these is Building Information Modelling (BIM), a 3D modelling technology that takes every aspect of a design or project into account. BIM provides designers, engineers and contractors with access to data throughout the life of the asset.

“With respect to underground space use, the rise of digital technology has made a big difference,” says Groves. “When it comes to accommodation of stairs, escalators, fire and life safety systems, power cable and drainage, the use of BIM means that clashes and other issues are almost entirely eliminated.”

As the critical mass of expertise and experience grows, the economic risks and uncertainties associated with tunnelling shrink. And with Atkins engaged in projects all over the world, the opportunities for knowledge sharing are significant.

“The reality is we don’t need to do too much blue sky thinking,” points out Groves. “What we really do is recycle great ideas and sound engineering solutions from our centres of tunneling expertise around the world and make step-by-step improvements tailored to different local circumstances. That’s particularly true of Atkins globally – all of those connections are important to us in the way that we act. International knowledge sharing and reuse is the key.”

Expertise is transferable not just across geographies, but between tunnels designed for different purposes. Atkins has extensive experience in the construction of tunnels for roads, water supplies, power distribution, sewage and stormwater systems.

Getting more

As well as new-build projects, refurbishment and expansion of existing tunnelled infrastructure is also part of the picture. In the United States, for example, Atkins provided construction management and general contractor services for the widening of the 1960s-built Interstate 70 Mountain Corridor near Idaho Springs in Colorado – one of the country’s strategic east-west road links.

In the UK, meanwhile, Atkins’ work on the Belfast sewers project and on London’s nineteenth-century Connaught and Thames tunnels highlights the company’s ability to provide a new lease of life for ageing Victorian infrastructure.

In addition to upgrades, there’s also growing interest in replacing existing above-ground assets, such as road flyovers, with new tunnelled infrastructure. While the prospect of traffic-free towns is remote, tunnelling could eliminate at least some urban eyesores. In the US, Boston’s “Big Dig” – a $15bn project to replace an elevated urban highway with a tunnel – has attracted international attention.

“The technology’s all there – such projects have been built in various locations not just in North America but in the Far East as well. We’re working on a very large road tunnel in Hong Kong at the moment,” says Groves.

Road tunnelling is expensive. But Groves stresses the need to look beyond the initial price tag and to take whole-life costs into account.

“If you eliminate a road flyover, that land can be used for something else and there’s clearly an enormous value in that. There’s also the question of maintenance: concrete structures in the open environment, such as flyovers, require significant amounts of structural maintenance. That’s not the case with tunnels. When you start to take those sorts of things into account, it doesn’t seem so expensive.”

In the realm of railways, technology available to end customers is also helping to tip the economics in favour of tunnels. High-capacity signalling such as CBTC – communications-based train control – means that operators can run more trains, more frequently, right from the start. That’s one of the reasons why a tunnel built in 2015 is capable of carrying up to 30 per cent more traffic than one constructed in 1980.

Political interest in capitalising on tunnelling expertise is growing. In the UK, where the Crossrail project is in its final leg, the government recently announced funding worth £1.1m to develop tunnelling skills with the construction industry providing an additional £1.7m. The money will be used to create apprenticeships and train tunnelling workers.

The future for tunnels is bright, thinks Groves: “Tunnels deliver huge benefits for society. The coming years are likely to see a far greater use of underground space, not only for railways, roads, water and sewers but also for the storage of crude oil and gas. There is also a need for long-term nuclear waste depositories.”

And he believes today’s tunnelling projects deserve wider public recognition: “People talk a lot about the achievements of the great Victorian engineers and I am an admirer of the work they did,” he notes. “But to be honest, what we do now is far more impressive.”

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

It’s well known that, for those who live and work in them every day, buildings can affect their health and wellbeing. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a whole section of its website devoted to “sick building syndrome” symptoms and their possible causes.

For Dave McFarlane, senior technical director at Atkins in the US, the problem is straightforward: “Most buildings do not work,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and I’ve never walked through a building where everything was working.”

McFarlane has been involved with the National Environmental Balancing Bureau Building (NEBB) Systems Commissioning Committee since 2000 to help combat the problem. He helped to establish the national Retro-Commissioning procedural standards and processes for the design and operation of buildings to improve performance, lower energy use and drive down users’ complaints.

“Broadly, when I say ‘broken’, I mean the energy costs are unnecessarily high, and the temperatures or fresh air volumes can’t be controlled to a desired setting,” he explains. “These things result in people not being comfortable.”

The results can be felt in many ways. In the most extreme cases, significant health impacts have been observed, including autoimmune conditions brought on by poor ventilation, as well as asthma. Poorly regulated temperature and badly-lit offices have been found to adversely affect people’s concentration and reduce productivity. That’s not to mention the higher energy costs due to poorly maintained and inadequately operated heating and ventilation systems.

The growing awareness of the impact of indoor environmental quality on performance has come from two main sources – business and education. School authorities, designers, educators and builders across the world have been working towards constructing healthier buildings, with encouraging results. However, even for new buildings, there is no guarantee they will function properly, and in the existing stock of buildings, problems remain.

The causes behind underperforming buildings are numerous, but over the course of his work in designing and maintaining “healthy buildings,” McFarlane has identified five recurring components that tend to be found in buildings.

  1. Initial building designs that do not support comfort and efficiency. This can mean anything from using standards that are outdated or details that do not provide proper direction to the contractor, to specifying equipment or using control sequences that will not deliver the desired outcome. Sometimes the owner’s project requirements are not adequately defined. And some design firms use junior engineers who lack the practical experience in engineering, design, and building operations. This lack of experience – and the inability to see potential issues and work to correct them upfront – is a contributor to many issues.
  2. Contractors build systems that do not support comfort and efficiency. It’s a simple fact that many contractors do not understand the details and standards that are included in engineering documents. Additionally, there is pressure to deliver buildings in a fast-paced timeframe and at the lowest cost, which leads to flawed construction. The net effect is that contractors essentially build in guaranteed faults by not following the design documents.
  3. Complexity of equipment. It’s not just the systems that fail to meet the building’s particular needs, but also the use of equipment too complex for maintenance staff to properly operate. This almost guarantees operational problems as the maintenance staff make overly simplistic corrections to system operations to satisfy occupant complaints.
  4. Minimal and incomplete testing of installed systems. Typically the installed systems will be tested and measured by installing contractors on a cursory basis. The systems are never thoroughly tested and adjusted prior to owner occupancy.
  5. Maintenance of complex systems turned over to maintenance staff who have received minimal training. Again, this is a guaranteed problem built-in from the outset of the building’s life: when the systems are simply too complex for the average maintenance team to operate to an optimal level. Systems controls are often placed in override conditions to solve one problem and no longer function as intended.

Given all this, building owners and landlords see the flaws in their buildings and work to deploy solutions to the underlying problems, right? Not so, says McFarlane.

What people usually do if there is a problem, he says, is to adopt a service mentality of fixing one specific problem: “The service company will look around and ask, ‘Why is it too hot’? Then they will adjust one component and say, ‘We fixed this room.’ What they fail to do is look at the other contributing factors.

“Typically, a building owner may complain, ‘Our energy costs are too high, what can we do?’ An engineering or design firm will come in and focus specifically on design issues. They may identify the lighting source as the problem and decide to put in lower energy light fixtures; or decide they are going to put in a more efficient chiller, or improved insulation for instance, but they ignore operational issues. The industry in general neglects to look at the problem from a holistic standpoint.”

For McFarlane, the work focuses on designing a solution that not only addresses the underlying factors of the building’s poor performance, but also puts in place a plan to maintain the optimal environment going forward.

McFarlane cites the example of a building with 100 people, where ten complain. By definition, that wouldn’t qualify as a sick building, but in all likelihood, the maintenance team will try to do whatever they can to make those ten people happy.

“That means they will go in and tweak something. And that may work to solve that particular complaint, but the net effect is that they have just changed the energy use of the building or they’ve made somebody else, downstream, unhappy as a result.”

By trying to keep the building’s users happy on an ad-hoc basis – through small, incremental changes – the building ends up being thrown off its original design. Over time, the inefficiencies and problems will build, and so the cycle continues.

If the traditional remedies are failing to adequately address the problem, where does that leave building owners and tenants seeking more comfort, lower cost and greater energy efficiency? Can these embedded and longstanding deficiencies – many of which have been in place since the first bricks were laid – really be identified, analyzed and improved on?

McFarlane has taken on this challenge as part of his work with Atkins in the US. In his view, the key to successfully retro-commissioning existing buildings or commissioning new projects involves looking at building operations as a holistic system and not as a collection of separate interlocking parts.

“To truly understand what’s going wrong, you need to evaluate the current design requirements,” he says. “We will walk through a building and look at the walls, the windows, the glass, the lights, the number of occupants, and the equipment that must cope with that design.”

Once that process has been undertaken, Atkins will begin the effort to retroactively design the building to better align it to the current usage patterns. Then, Atkins’ technicians will go through the building and determine whether each element has been correctly configured and is operating for optimal performance. The review does not compare against the original design but looks at the way the building is currently being used.

“For example, let’s say, we find a room that needs 1,000 CFM of air and 55 degrees to cool it; we will look at what’s installed in the space and we look to make sure that the installation is done in a manner that will allow 1,000 CFM to flow into the room. If the room has changed, we may determine that the original design is never going to work because the room has changed and the original design is no longer valid. The space will need a different sized terminal box to deliver the right amount of air.”

It’s at this point that the Atkins process really begins to differ from other engineering firms. In the next step, Atkins will send in a team of diagnostic technicians that operate the equipment: raising or lower thermostats, changing set points on chillers and boilers to determine how the systems operate.

“They’ll test how the equipment runs, and if it’s not working properly, they will find the problem,” says McFarlane. “As we go through the building, we are making a list of contributing issues, which tells us what’s wrong and needs to be fixed.”

Atkins technicians will make some of the most obvious fixes right on the spot, or have the maintenance staff make minor repairs, so the owner will immediately see an improvement. In addition, if the on-site maintenance team isn’t able to carry out fixes as needed, Atkins will engage a contractor to visit the site and make the necessary changes as part of the project.

“After the contractor fixes the issue, Atkins will go back and make sure the corrective action was done properly, so that when we’re done, we know the building is set up to operate based on our design criteria. We set all the controls and adjust flows so that when we put the thermostat on 72 degrees, it will actually be 72 degrees in the room.”

So far, this retro-commissioning model has proved popular among US clients. A recent project at the Grand Forks County Office Building in North Dakota has exceeded the initial savings estimates on energy costs.

Because of improved temperature control and a new energy policy, occupant complaints have been reduced by 90 percent. As McFarlane says, “People don’t complain when they know that their space is being maintained within agreed upon temperature ranges.”

Central to retro-commissioning’s appeal is the paradox that while virtually every building has these problems in common, they also have the necessary conditions for a set of straightforward remedies.

“We’re not trying to sell somebody a new solar heating system, energy efficient boiler or other equipment. We are taking a standard engineering approach that redesigns the building to its current needs. We are testing systems and components and operating all equipment to ensure that they are capable of delivering the current needs of the building. We then fix, replace or upgrade equipment and systems as needed to provide a building that is operating at its current requirements,” McFarlane explains.

And this holistic concept, he says, is something that many engineering firms aren’t comfortable with.

“In many cases, architectural and engineering firms will design a project, write a report, and then it stops there. Our approach is to get hands-on and actually set the building up properly. We set up temperature control sequences and adjust air and water flows as required so we know it’s done right.”

Atkins has found that its approach to improved building performance will typically reduce energy use by 15 to 30 per cent with paybacks in one to five years.

“You’ll never win a race to be the cheapest firm in town, because another firm will cut corners, reduce scope and always beat you. You can win a race to be the best. You can control that. And when you’re the best, people will hire you because they know you’re the best, and then price is no longer the overriding factor. Our approach is based on proven engineering standards that delivers proven results.”

North America,

We at Atkins recently shared our purpose; central to this is the power of transforming potential into reality. Yet for this to happen, the risks of that transformation must be systematically overcome. The call to innovate, to create, to challenge goes out, with the accompanying calls from government that the market will meet the challenge, with technology, finance and leadership. But at Innovate 2014, the UK’s national innovation agency’s annual jamboree, amongst the lionising of exciting start-ups and whizz-bang technology, a stark message from the equally-lauded venture capital industry accompanied it. According to a panel including Stuart Chapman of DFJ Esprit, private capital is very much constrained. VCs supply risk capital, but they also want an early exit and a quick turnaround on their money. Private capital is impatient, looking something that can be fast, agile and quick to scale. But although it’s easy to look askance at claims that social media and processing algorithms can “make the world a better place”, solving the biggest problems human society faces – climate change, housing and energy shortages, social inequality, global pandemics, to name but a few – will be done in capital-intensive industries, the very ones that the supposedly great innovators of Silicon Valley aren’t prioritising, according to a sobering piece in the MIT Technology Review by the writer Michael S. Malone. Quoting Mark Steep of the legendary Xerox PARC centre:

"This town used to think big—the integrated circuit, personal computers, the Internet. Are we really leveraging all that intellectual power and creativity creating Instagram and dating apps? Is this truly going to change the world?"

So private capital may not provide the right solutions – and we already have a shortage of engineers and scientists. What we need, therefore, is to find a way to focus on the really big challenges. This won’t be quick and it won’t be easy. It won’t provide a tidy profit to one bottom line, or stick to a VC’s timetable. We need you to ask us to think big – and think long-term.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Any company operating in the engineering industry knows that their success is built upon the quality of their people. But if high calibre engineers are the backbone of our businesses, how will we fare in the face of the looming UK engineering skills shortage?

There’s no doubt that the imminent skills deficit has come about as a result of too few students studying STEM subjects combined with the Baby Boomer generation of engineers rapidly approaching retirement age. With this in mind, it is critical that we not only maintain but also increase the country’s pool of engineering talent. Without them, we will not have the engineers required to support the major domestic infrastructure projects that underpin the economic recovery and continued growth of the UK.

Of course we need to introduce more young people in to the industry, along with greater diversity of engineering talent, to address the longer term requirement. However, we still need to find a short-to-medium term solution. While many engineering companies are looking to import talent from other countries to address the skills gap, I believe that a more elegant solution lies closer to home.

The British Armed Forces have a well-deserved reputation for the quality of training and development it provides its personnel. Whether ‘regular’ full time military personnel or ‘Reservists’ – ordinary people who give up their free time to train and serve alongside the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force or Royal Marines – it is my belief that these people possess many qualities that are attractive to engineering businesses. These include a massive can-do attitude, excellent technical skills and a proven ability to perform well in challenging environments.

While historically engineers might have just been expected to excel in technical expertise, today they need to develop a wider range of skills. Leadership skills in particular are expected across all grades, not just those who are in management roles. Fundamentally, leadership is all about communication and motivation. I find that those who have a military background have experience of leadership and know how to motivate others in the workplace, making them an ideal addition to the industry.

However, in order to attract high calibre military people engineering companies need to ensure that they are an Armed Forces friendly organisation.

Atkins has long recognised the leadership, project management and technical skills that our ex-military personnel and Reservist staff bring and as a result we have signed the military Corporate Covenant. This voluntary pledge is a public declaration of our support of the British Armed Forces. A growing number of UK businesses have now signed the Corporate Covenant and I would urge any engineering business to do the same.

To ensure veterans and Reservists find an open door into your business I believe any company should make sure they have appropriate HR policies and procedures in place to ensure such staff have the support they need. Consideration should also be given to the two week annual training commitment that all Reservists make to their military units. The majority of the companies that are successful in attracting such people offer paid leave to cover this time – whether in part or completely.

Becoming an Armed Forces friendly organisation can certainly help recruit and retain valuable talent, bring vital leadership skills into a business and even support new business development overseas.

As I write this, the UK Armed Forces is currently undergoing a period of change, which is resulting in a growing number of skilled ex-service personnel now entering civilian life. Against this backdrop the engineering industry has a window of opportunity to recognise the value of, and open their doors to, Armed Forces veterans and Reservists in order to capitalise upon this ready pool of skilled personnel.

UK & Europe,

How can clients and the building sector work together to achieve our collective goal, which is to develop infrastructure projects that benefit everyone and attract the right level of investment from the right stakeholders?

Steve Tasker, managing director of Design & Engineering – London & South East, Atkins:

Professional collaboration is essential – it can change the landscape of delivery – but we need to choose the right partners, ones that are fit to collaborate. How do we create platforms for mutual benefit? Can we truly get to the position where everybody wins? Is it feasible? Innovation comes out of professional collaboration with the right partners.

But first, you need the will of the people to support a major infrastructure project or else the politicians won’t vote for it. We have to ask, is it politically implementable? Have we articulated the project’s impact on people well enough that politicians believe they can support it? And if the investment goes through, have we anticipated the social and environmental consequences, and the modified behaviours and attitudes in a city like London, to actually capitalise on and reap the benefit of such a development?

Phil Wilbraham, development director at Heathrow Airport:

In some ways, it depends where you are. In the UK, for example, we don’t appear to have the will of the people, while in other countries, local mayors and people are calling out for construction.

If you’re in France and you haven’t got high-speed rail coming through your town, you want to know why. In the UK, if it is coming through your town, you want to know why. It seems the debate is slightly topsy-turvy. The political will is needed, as you say, but to get the political will means that people have to realise the benefit and understand that sometimes the greater good is the right way forward.

Richard De Cani, director of strategy and planning at Transport for London:

There is also a recognition that investment in transport delivers benefits that are broader than transport alone, particularly in relation to economic growth and the environment. Transport is a clear enabler of growth, whether in terms of jobs or homes, and the way in which we assess and justify transport has to recognise this broader role. By directly contributing to unlocking development, there is also a link with funding – the role that funding from development-related sources plays in helping to deliver transport infrastructure is now much more important. The Northern Line extension illustrates how a funding and finance package that draws on contributions from those that gain, can fund major new transport infrastructure. However, the process by which transport is assessed and authorised needs to reflect the broader impact; for example, a transport scheme should be justified on all of its impacts, not just the traditional range of transport factors.

Is the industry really able to deliver these huge projects on time and in the right way though? Are clients satisfied?

Phil Wilbraham:

That depends on whether the supply chain is fit and ready to deliver. Are contractors and designers in the UK fit to work together to produce the infrastructure we want? Or should we be looking overseas at a model where the builder takes a lot more risk and provides more innovation, in part because they can afford to? In the UK, it appears risk seems to sit with the client most of the time.

Typically, in a traditional model of contracting, we’re very restrictive and competitive in what we do, which doesn’t allow the bigger players to come in, use all their tools and effectively take over the programme. If we’re not careful, we end up putting a delivery partner between us – as the client – and the work. I think that’s the wrong way to do it; we should be allowing the supply chain to come closer to meet the client.

I think it would be so powerful if the parties involved could actually take more risk from their balance sheet – and were prepared to take on the overall programme and ultimately tell the client how they are going to deliver, with the client believing it; rather than the client always saying what they want and others trying to please them. There are lots of examples in this country where things could have been delivered faster, better and more standardised had the supply chain been more courageous.

Projects like Crossrail, a potential third runway and so on are enormous – and urgent – but are they fit for purpose in the long term?

Mike McNicholas, group managing director of Design & Engineering, Atkins:

Future-proofing is not just about building, it’s about making infrastructure adaptable. The questions we need to ask are, how can we create learning infrastructure? How can we respond with infrastructure that’s designed and built on the day you decide what you want? And how can we use modern technology to think differently and achieve those goals?

Richard De Cani:

It is also about making the right long term decisions that meet future needs. In London we are seeing unprecedented population growth, which means by 2030 we will be a city of 10 million people. To support this level of population and to ensure the growth of the city happens in the right way (so we have not just a bigger but a better London), we need to make the right decisions about future transport needs.

In London we have seen a 10 per cent shift from private transport to public transport, walking and cycling since 2001. To support this trend towards a larger population, we need to continue to invest in vital projects like Crossrail 2 to ensure we have the capacity to meet future growth.

What about intelligent multi-use of assets? Is there enough focus or input that says, we could take this group of assets and engineer it in a different way and get a multi-benefit out of it?

Richard De Cani:

This has been a key focus of our investment strategy for the past 10 years and will continue to play a major part. By transforming and upgrading the tube network or through the creation of the London Overground, we have taken existing infrastructure and – through the replacement of signalling, rolling stock and the redevelopment of stations – generated a major uplift in capacity and connectivity.

The London Overground is a great example of this. Through a package of relatively small strategic interventions targeted mainly at an existing set of assets but delivered as part of an integrated package with replacement rolling stock, staffing and service levels, it has transformed the geography of the areas it serves. It has created new opportunities for travel, supported a major transformation of the surrounding areas and helped support the continued shift away from private car use towards public transport.

There is still more we can do in London to ensure we unlock the greatest potential from existing assets, particularly with the National Rail network and tube lines such as the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines, which need to secure funding to be upgraded.

Steve Tasker:

We’ve had conversations about applying data gathering techniques to problems such as these – for example, using mobile phone data to establish patterns of travel and the choices people make in different scenarios. Intelligent use of this data can help us plan for the future and allow travellers to make better, more informed travel decisions.

And so it comes back to collaboration – is that the ultimate answer? And if so, can it really be achieved and standardised for the industry and clients alike?

Phil Wilbraham:

It can be done, but most organisations would have to be in a spot before they really collaborated. For example, when Heathrow’s Terminal Five was being designed and built, we were in a situation where we had to find solutions that would satisfy everybody. As a result, we enjoyed some exceptional collaboration and found really good answers, which were then accepted by all the stakeholders, saving us a lot of time and money.

But that’s the challenge: don’t wait until you’re in a spot. Collaboration should be the norm, but most organisations struggle to realise what great people they have around them. At the end of the year, how many people say, “It’s been really hard work this year, we just got there”? Nobody ever says, “It’s been so easy, we’ve hit all our milestones and it’s just been great!” Collaborating makes it easier. Organisations should be able to collaborate by default – everything will get easier as they move forward.

UK & Europe,

The Home Insurance Building in Chicago, Illinois, is widely regarded as the world’s first skyscraper. It was completed in 1885 and, at 10 storeys and 138 feet, it was certainly tall for its time. And yet height was just one of its defining features. It was the first time architects and engineers had moved away from what were considered to be traditional weight bearing materials – the building was supported almost entirely by a metal frame. This technique for building higher yet lighter structures set the standard for the industry to follow and sparked a wave of innovation.

Today, 130 years later, we look down at the buildings that were once seen as landmarks and the construction industry continues to push the boundaries of possibility. One hotel, office and residential complex reaches more than 800 metres high. A one-kilometre tall tower is not far off.

“We’ll continue to see supertall and even mega-tall buildings defining city skylines around the world,” says Richard Smith, director at Atkins. “But the higher you go, the more complex – and less economically viable – the structure becomes. For every supertall building that’s constructed, there’ll be another 50 that we’ll just describe as tall.”

Smith believes the ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions will have a definite impact on the future of our built environment, especially when it comes to larger buildings. In the UK, for example, the government has set a target to deliver “zero carbon” new homes and non-domestic buildings from 2016 and 2019 respectively. And that includes tall buildings.

“We believe we can do it,” Smith adds. “But it has not been proved for the mass market, yet.”

According to a report by insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, 59 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings have been built in the past four years and 90 per cent of those are in China, South East Asia or the Middle East.

Research organisations and industry leaders are not waiting for the deadline, they’re seizing the opportunity to set new standards in pursuit of the zero carbon goal.

“Achieving it in the top five per cent of buildings is always possible,” he says. “It’s the other 95 per cent where the industry faces the big challenge and where it becomes a business-as-usual solution. In reality, it takes time – and it has to be affordable.”

According to Smith, one of the challenges in meeting the target in high rise developments is reducing the amount of energy needed to operate elevators. It’s one of the most important components so, to create greener buildings, engineers are relying on technology to help them make carbon savings. Fortunately, the technology is improving constantly.

Tall building: 50m 0r 14 stories, Supertall building: 3000m or 75 stories, Megatall building: 600m or 150 stories

Similarly, significant progress is being made integrating renewable energy sources into tall towers, but there is still work to be done. In this respect, Atkins is learning lessons from its work on more than 100 tall buildings in the Middle East. For example, three large, 29m diameter wind turbines sit within the Atkins-designed Bahrain World Trade Centre. The company won a Holcim Foundation award for the sustainable design of the 400-metre, 53-storey Lighthouse Tower in Dubai, where it incorporated many low carbon strategies including wind turbines and photovoltaic units into the architecture. Together with other initiatives, such as a high performance facade and natural ventilation, the design demonstrated that a 58 per cent (excluding the wind turbines) reduction in carbon emissions and a 50 per cent cut in water consumption may be achievable. The building did not proceed to construction but Atkins was awarded LEED Platinum design certification.

This is an increasingly important area of work. Cities are expanding at a rate never seen before and there is more pressure on our resources. In some urban centres, a rising population, the high cost of land and housing shortages mean that authorities are faced with two options: build up or extend the urban sprawl. According to Smith, the former is often preferable.

“One part of sustainability is about people not having to use their cars,” he says. “Clusters of tall buildings can provide a range of services and facilities within walking distance, which can create benefits. I think the future will be about interconnecting people at higher levels as well, so people can move horizontally through the clusters and not just at ground level. There is also a social aspect; if we get the public realm and the common facilities right then we’ll create societies where people know their neighbours. Some would even argue that’s how you judge sustainability.”

Supertall infographics

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Air traffic is soaring: 3.2 billion passengers worldwide used air transport last year, up five per cent on 2013. In the UK, both Heathrow and Gatwick – Britain’s busiest airports – reported record passenger numbers, with Heathrow handling more than 73 million travellers in 2014.

Rising demand for air journeys is taking place against a backdrop of increasingly rigorous security checks. In modern terminals in the UK, biometrics are being used to link passengers to their travel documents – this ensures that the person who boards the plane is the same person who was given authority to fly.

London Heathrow introduced the Passenger Authentication Scanning System (PASS) to assist in this process. Designed and implemented by Atkins in partnership with Aurora Computer Services, PASS meets all the statutory requirements for checking boarding passes by integrating biometric facial recognition into the departure process.

Who goes there?

The technology involved in biometrics systems such as PASS has evolved to make certain it continues to operate at peak efficiency and high security.

“The facial recognition cameras installed at Heathrow use infrared light,” adds Dr Nick Whitehead, strategic services manager for identity assurance at Atkins. “This overcomes the problem with natural light, which can change from minute to minute. Infrared gives us consistent images and high quality matching in all situations.”

Cameras are not the only method for capturing the unique physical characteristics on which biometric systems depend – fingerprints and iris patterns can also be used. But each has limitations. Fingerprinting requires direct contact with a reading device, so maintenance through regular cleaning is required. And fingerprints can wear out, at least temporarily: sufferers of contact dermatitis and bricklayers are among those whose prints may prove unreadable.

Iris scans offer another biometric option, although early versions of the technology were considered intrusive: “Iris scans were originally used for frequent travellers who would register their details and the data would be retained,” says Whitehead. “The means of capture was awkward and quite unpleasant for the first iteration, although the technology is moving on now with the development of ‘capture at a distance’.”

Getting the passenger interface right is central to the success of any biometric security system. The challenge is balancing the competing factors of accuracy, cost, time and passenger experience.

Facial recognition technology fits the bill. It’s reliable, quick and non-intrusive. And unlike fingerprints and iris scans, facial data is already widely used in government issued identity documentation. This opens the door to future applications.

“Ubiquity is a factor,” says Whitehead. “Digital images are used extensively in identity documents: the ePassports used in the UK have a high-resolution jpeg encoded on the chip and it’s the only biometric that you would find in all new electronic passports. Even the old ones have a printed image.”

This makes it possible to authenticate the identity of passport holders electronically by comparing facial biometrics with image data already stored on the passport’s chip. Atkins has trialled this capability in conjunction with the airline trade association IATA at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 with very encouraging results.

Transforming travel

While front line technologies such as facial recognition cameras attract much of the attention, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. What happens behind the scenes is just as important. Building a successful system starts not with technology, but by developing a deep understanding of the complex airport environment.

This matters because systems must meet not only security requirements, but also take into account the operational and commercial needs of different stakeholders. This is no small task: border control agencies, airline operators, airport owners and passengers all have different needs. Cultural factors – even tolerance to queuing – must also be taken into account. These factors vary from country to country, so every system must be fine-tuned to its environment.

Providing a high-quality passenger experience is vital. Airports operate in a competitive market and passenger satisfaction is regularly evaluated via Airport Service Quality surveys. An airport that acquires a reputation for slow and intrusive security is likely to prove less popular with passengers and airlines in the long run. Chaos and queues at airports can also have an impact on national reputation, so smooth and seamless operations are essential.

The quality of the customer experience can also have a direct impact on the commercial performance of the airport.

“Airport operators depend on revenue from retail operations, so they need to maximise the amount of time people spend in shopping areas,” says Whitehead. “Passenger experience is directly linked to the amount of money that people spend in airport shops. It’s also important for airline operators – if passengers are happy, they’ll fly more often.”

As well as helping to ease bottlenecks, biometric solutions make it possible to design smarter, smoother running airports. Because PASS links passengers with their boarding cards at an early stage in the process, there’s no need to segregate airside passengers into separate domestic and international zones – and therefore no need to duplicate facilities such as shops and concessions.

“The perceived wisdom is you need walls to separate people,” observes Whitehead. “But if you apply technology to the architect’s world, you don’t need to: logical rather than physical separation is now possible. Terminal 5 at Heathrow is deemed to be one of the best terminals in the world because it’s open and this has been enabled by reliable biometrics.”

Bridging the gap

As well as commercial and operational know-how, it takes expertise in systems integration to build airport ID management systems. New links must be established between disparate IT systems (in airports, these systems are seldom connected). Airport operators have one system, while airline operators each have their own dedicated systems.

This matters because responsibility for security and efficiency is shared. Pre-security checks and those made before passengers leave the departure lounge, for example, depend on systems operated by the airport. Check-in and the final check before boarding are managed by systems operated by the airline. Somehow, systems must be made to talk to each other.

To overcome this problem, Atkins created a bridgehead application that gathers snippets of data from the different systems as passengers move between checkpoints, with no confidentiality risk to the underlying commercial systems.

“Data is shared with the airline through a report that appears on the gate PC, giving a manifest of the last time a passenger was seen in the process,” explains Whitehead. “The latest iteration is a workflow engine that can be easily configured to a specific airline’s need. The new system allows an airline to make earlier decisions about passengers who are unlikely to make it through to the departure gate on time. Staff can then take action such as off-loading baggage and embarking standby passengers.”

Atkins has also worked with partners to overcome the challenge of integrating biometrics with the so-called “common use platform” – the IT platform used by staff at the branded but re-assignable check-in desks at airports. Common use systems are governed by stringent standards that don’t yet take biometrics into account.

“We’ve developed a mechanism by which we can integrate biometrics onto that platform ahead of the standards being made available,” says Whitehead. “The beauty of this solution is that it can be bolted on without affecting the airlines’ background applications. That’s important, because many of those applications are business critical and very old – you just don’t touch them.”

Facing the future

Atkins has already successfully trialled biometrically-enabled self-boarding with South African Airways and British Airways, combining PASS with a passenger-operated e-gate. The increasing use of self-service looks certain.

“We could reach a situation where you don’t need a boarding card: you just stand in front of the camera, you’re identified, that’s linked to a booking and you walk through without the need to carry a document,” says Whitehead.

Another promising avenue is biometric monitoring on the move. This could provide automated answers to tricky questions. For example, did everybody who got on the plane get off the plane? If passengers can be monitored as they walk along the jetway, they can be logged on and off, greatly improving security.

“The technology that makes applications of this sort possible has not only improved, it’s also become more affordable,” notes Whitehead. “The implications are massive.”

UK & Europe,

With the rise of sites like indiegogo, kickstarter and gofundme, crowdsourcing is now very much part of the innovation landscape. People and organisations can raise money for charity, campaigns, consumer projects, and start-ups – everything from hobbyhorses to hoverboards. But how much of this can really help with the challenges of infrastructure, where projects are capital-intensive, running into many billions, or long-term, taking decades to conceive and deliver? Private capital demands a hefty bite and often a five-year exit strategy – in fact, in the UK, private investors are often constrained to no more than two years by their tax incentives. There is a lack of “slow capital”, capital which could be patient. At the same time, much of the UK’s infrastructure is now owned by institutional investors like pension funds, the quintessential patient capital, an example being the High Speed 1 railway owned, in part, by Canadian teachers. Many of us would be delighted if our pensions were backed by a robust and high-value piece of longterm infrastructure rather than an exotic financial product existing largely in the dreamscape of financial engineers.

GE Capital recently released a report by their chief economist showing that it is possible to crowdsource ideas in capital-intensive industries, but would it be possible to crowdfund the projects themselves, for the benefit of the society that relies on them? Serious investing sites for crowdfunding exciting new products, like crowdcube and Seedrs already exist and although these handle serious engineering innovations like the Pod Point electric vehicle charging network, a far greater order of magnitude is required for a major piece of infrastructure like a bridge, a school or a renewable energy installation. Many of these would be welcome and attractive investments for the communities that they could serve and in the current parlous economic climate, a means for the country to bootstrap its own requirements by a modern version of public subscription could transform the madness of crowds into something eminently sane and sensible, without the need to rely on the profit motive or a spurious economic case.

The triple bottom line benefits that infrastructure undeniably brings are rarely evident to organisations principally concerned with the value of their asset portfolio. The crowd may be savvy when it comes to sourcing the latest gadgets, campaigns and consumer products, but crowdsourcing has not yet reached a level of maturity that could provide it with funding for capital-intensive projects that could deliver decades, or even centuries of value. The word “engineering” is linked to the word “ingenuity” – so perhaps it is time to exhibit some of this in conceiving infrastructure as well as designing and delivering it.

UK & Europe,

Between 2012 and 2014, many parts of the United Kingdom faced unprecedented hydrological extremes. Drought was followed by inland flooding and major tidal surges. Many different habitats and species were affected, particularly along the coast. The full impact of these events in terms of biodiversity is not yet known.

Climate change is exacerbating weather extremes. Recent tidal surges would have been significantly more severe if the mean sea level had been 50cm higher – the approximate rise under a conservative projection to the end of the century. This excludes changes in the character of the tidal surges themselves and factors such as increased storminess. Inland, wetter winters with heavier downpours will lead to more flooding similar to that seen in the Somerset Levels and elsewhere in the UK over the past two winters.

“Now is the time to reconsider our strategy for responding to climate impacts,” says Dr Geoff Darch, principal consultant, Climate Futures & Environmental Change, Atkins. “Our instinct is to restore conditions – putting things back the way they were before – as quickly as possible. But unless the events are extremes that are expected to decline in future, doing this will increase the ‘adaptation deficit’ – a measure of how well adapted something is to the prevailing climate.”

Preventing nature from taking its course could be storing up problems for the future. In the clamour for restoration, there is the risk that opportunities could be missed. Using natural habitats more creatively – for example, by using them to reduce flood risk – could help to manage climate impacts on society.

This will mean facing some difficult decisions, particularly where uncertainties are high. However, through the use of robust decision-making techniques, combined with stakeholder collaboration at local, regional and national scales, there is an opportunity to achieve sustainable adaptation that will benefit both people and the biodiversity on which everyone depends.

Heading north

Action is already underway to understand potential impacts. For example, Natural England – the body that advises the government on the natural environment – runs a research programme on climate change that has identified impacts in a number of diverse geographical areas across England and which has started to identify adaptation measures. The UK Terrestrial Biodiversity Climate Change Impacts Report Card, published last year, demonstrates how climate change is already affecting habitats and species.

There are winners and losers. The UK already has a preponderance of species with northern range margins – plants and animals adapted to the relatively warmer conditions in the south. Species with southern range margins (those which are best adapted to the cooler northern climate) are fewer in number. The report card highlights the way that climate change could further shift the goal posts in favour of southern species, pushing their range ever further north at the expense of cold-area species.

Species whose range is likely to expand under this scenario include the stone curlew and the Adonis blue butterfly. Some species have already started to move north. One of these – the long-winged conehead cricket – has spread from England’s south coast to the midlands in little more than 20 years. By contrast, creatures at home in colder regions – such as the common scoter and black grouse – will find their habitats shrinking as the temperature rises.

These long-term population shifts are distinct from the short-lived, localised changes in species distribution triggered by high-impact events such as flooding. Again, there are winners and losers. As last winter’s floodwaters subsided, the moist ground left behind may have proved beneficial to wading birds. But it also meant fish populations were left stranded in some places.

Living with change

Principles for environmental adaptation have already been developed. Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) recently published an Adaptation Manual which includes a reiteration of principles for sustainable adaptation, underlining the idea that adaptation should increase resilience and that approaches should be flexible.

The National Adaptation Plan, published last year, includes focal themes for the natural environment on building resilience to climate change impacts, and preparing for and accommodating change. The Manual recognises the need for planning both site and landscape-scale adaptation, including site objective setting and improvements to connectivity.

Legislation in this area lags behind. The European Commission’s Habitats Directive 1992 and Water Framework Directive 2000 have relied on subsequent publications and processes to include climate change adaptation – for example, the EC’s Biodiversity Communication (2006) and the Water Framework Directive’s Common Implementation Strategy. The EC also produced guidance entitled River Basin Management in a Changing Climate (European Commission 2009).

However, the sustainability reductions initiative relating to both directives, which aims to reduce abstractions of water from the environment where they are considered to be damaging protected habitats or preventing the achievement of ‘good’ status, does not appear to take climate change into account. In contrast, water companies have a legal obligation to include the impact of climate change in their Water Resource Management Plans.

In the past, changing the designations of conservation zones has been a reactive process. For example, the re-designation of the SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) at Porlock in west Somerset was undertaken after a coastal gravel barrier was breached in a storm in 1996, demonstrating a failure mode where a natural system cannot adjust freely, in this case to a rise in sea level.

In 2008, Natural England published a SSSI notification strategy, stating that a feature of the SSSI series should be an ability to respond dynamically and to be resilient to the predicted effects of climate change. Natural England is developing its approach to changes to conservation objectives, interest features and site boundaries; it is likely to be increasingly required in future.

“In some cases habitats are unlikely to be naturally resilient. Repeated floods and or droughts, or a very severe event as at Porlock, will fundamentally and permanently alter the ecology,” says Dr Darch. “Allowing or actively transforming a habitat is a complex and often controversial issue, especially at the landscape scale. Understandably, there are strong economic interests twinned with deep rooted cultural values which imbue a sense of place. But if we do not anticipate and actively manage for the future, then one of two situations will arise: either the natural environment will adapt itself, or we will be forced to spend increasing resources trying to maintain the status quo.”

Facing the future

Uncertainty is often cited as a reason for inaction or delay. It is clearly not possible to know how the future will turn out: there are uncertainties in the impacts on, and responses of, individual species, habitats and – crucially – the interactions between different species. For example, researchers are already aware of stresses imposed by a loss of synchronicity. Some populations of the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca in continental Europe, for example, are declining because they now breed after the time of peak caterpillar abundance, which has become earlier.

Nonetheless, uncertainty and complexity are not unique to ecology and techniques that are explicitly focused on decision making under uncertainty are now being used in other areas of adaptation planning. In water resources planning, which is subject to large uncertainties over climate change as well as population and demand, adaptation pathways have been constructed to help frame the decision space on major adaptations. This type of analysis can be extended to incorporate costs using “real options” techniques.

“Robust decision-making methods might be suitable for evaluating adaptation associated with certain habitats that are highly vulnerable,” says Dr Darch. “These include sites that are highly exposed to climate hazards, sensitive to change and with low natural adaptive capacity. Among these are wetlands, coastal habitats and places where there are significant uncertainties – for example, in the size and timing of impacts or the nature of the adaptation measures.”

Adaptation can only be informed by technical exercises such as impact assessments and robust decision-making methods. The questions about adaptation raised in the Natural England/RSPB Adaptation Manual illustrate that it has to be a collaborative process at local, regional and national scales and involving, among others, local residents, landowners, local authorities, NGOs, environmental agencies, tourism bodies and business.

“This makes adaptation difficult, but it is time for society to face the future positively,” says Dr Darch. “If we do not, we are actually deciding to make life harder for future generations. Nature will ultimately adapt itself, but it is just that we may not like the consequences.”

This is an edited version of an article that was first published in In Practice, volume 85, pages 8-10, by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and is used here with the kind permission of CIEEM. Darch, G. (2014). Planning for climate change adaptation – it’s time to face those difficult decisions.

UK & Europe,

Rail stations are very often the hubs of the neighbourhoods in which they are situated, as a recent article points out. They are a gathering point, a nexus, a means of modal interchange and, nowadays, as in the case of Kings Cross Station in London, increasingly a “destination station”, a place to go in its own right, whether for entertainment, dining or even as a tourist attraction, as the lines for the “Platform 9¾” attraction demonstrate.

But the station as an attractor in its own right will be taking second place to its incidental function as an enabler of what people really want for some time yet. Increasingly, we hear of ideas of the “third place”; home, work and “somewhere else”. The rise of ubiquitous mobile connectivity gives knowledge workers the ability to work wherever it suits them to work. The idea of “presenteeism”, where people are to be seen physically working in the office, can now be substituted with a digital version, via a little green status light saying “available” or “online” that appears on people’s social media rosters, whether via Facebook or the corporate Microsoft Lync application.

What makes this work is the agglomeration of “digital presence” in one place. But for interactions that will remain face-to-face – and there will always be many, these will increasingly be concentrated around hubs, with rail stations’ interchange driving traffic. But the total experience of the station as an enabler is being transformed by this. The stand-out example here is connectivity – as expected, “free wifi here” is fast becoming an expectation in places where it was previously a differentiator. People expect to be connected and will, increasingly, avoid places where they can’t get a phone signal or internet connection.

The idea of a station as the hub has been given new life by this expectation of universal connectivity. The “third place” may now be a reality, but the “fourth place” is something that will reveal itself in the age of intelligent mobility. With the advent of autonomous vehicles, rather than smartphones and tablets being seen as a dangerous distraction from the business of driving, driving will increasingly become something that will get in the way of work, and entertainment and relaxation. And while much is made of the potential of a train or indeed a station to be a place for these as well, the “digital railway” cannot function as such unless it can also act as a similar “fourth space” – which will require a seamless digital experience on board. Potential customers will vote not with their feet, but with their seats.

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UK & Europe,

With its sleek lines and gleaming glass façade, the H2 low carbon building in Tianjin, China, radiates neo-modern kerb appeal. But the beauty of this building is more than skin-deep. Completed this year, H2 – a mixed-use development which includes offices, shops, restaurants and exhibition spaces – is one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the country.

This achievement was in the spotlight recently when H2 received an award in the “Best innovative green building” category of the 2014 MIPIM Asia Awards, which recognise innovation and achievement in the region’s property industry.

The nine-storey block is the low carbon centrepiece of the Modern Services District of the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA), about 80 miles south-east of Beijing. H2 is accredited to four different green certification rating systems and is the first office building in the world to achieve this distinction.

In addition to its role as a commercial building, H2 is designed as a showcase for green building technologies – all the way from its low carbon basement demonstration area to its 50-metre high landscaped roof garden, which helps keep the building cool in summer.

Atkins provided master planning and architectural design services for the project, as well as coordinating all the stakeholders to ensure all design intentions were implemented and embraced during the build. Atkins’ architectural department in China has more than a dozen projects under construction.

H2 reflects China’s growing determination to halt the environmental damage that has beset its economic expansion over the past 30 years. Increasing interest in green certifications – which exceed the minimum energy efficiency standards laid down by governments – testifies to that commitment. The green building schemes under which H2 is accredited are China Three Star, CASBEE (Japan), BREEAM (UK) and LEED (US).

Green labelling schemes such as these provide independent recognition of not only a building’s low carbon and resource efficiency credentials (including aspects like energy, water, and biodiversity) but also its ability to provide a comfortable, safe and attractive environment for the people who work in it.

The schemes take into account factors such as indoor air quality and comfort, the availability of daylight and a view out of the building. Focusing on these quality of life attributes is good not only for building users – workers in green buildings tend to be healthier – but also makes business sense, because productivity is higher. All these factors help to attract investment from overseas.

“Multinational companies, such as banks and law firms, want to know that a building is going to perform to the standards they are accustomed to in Europe and the US,” says Sean Lockie, director, carbon and sustainability, Faithful+Gould. “If you’ve got people all over the world, you want to make sure they’re in accommodation with similar performance standards. Organisations want spaces that perform predictably, and green rating systems help with that.”

Building to green benchmarks often means striking a balance between environmental objectives on the one hand and user comfort on the other. Achieving that balance can be tricky. For instance, some of the things that make life better for occupants – such as a good view out of the window – can lead to increased energy consumption through greater heat loss of solar gains, if they aren’t designed correctly.

Predominantly west facing buildings, for example, are exposed to the full force of the afternoon sun. This exposure increases the need for energy guzzling air conditioning.

“Factors such as the orientation and shape of the building have an impact on energy efficiency, but often the view out of the building is important,” says Peter Chan, technical director for sustainable building design at Atkins.

Getting the balance right depends on multidisciplinary collaboration. “Atkins’ architectural and engineering teams work together from the start,” says Chan. “We wouldn’t ask the architectural team to alter the orientation of the building, but we would advise them on design measures to minimise solar heat gains, such as shading devices and double/triple glazing systems.”

In the case of H2, the decision was taken to orient the building’s long axis to face south. This orientation helps in two ways.

First, it maximises natural light for people working in the building.

Even people whose desks are set some distance from the windows get the benefit of daylight, because of horizontal “light pipes” that channel natural light into the building.

Second, a south-facing elevation is ideal for harvesting solar energy. H2’s photovoltaic array is an integral part of the building’s façade and can generate 60kW – enough to power around 300 PCs and monitors when the sun shines.

The north face of the building is triple glazed to minimise heat losses during the icy Tianjin winter. The project is described by the design team as an “ecological sandwich” – a reference to the building’s distinctive rectilinear profile and multi-layered curtain walls.

The H2 low carbon building in Tianjin, China.

Green buildings such as H2 can be more expensive to design and construct than conventional structures, but not all green buildings cost more. Research cited in a recent World Green Building Council report suggests that the cost premium for a green building over a conventional code-compliant one is in the range of -0.4 to 12.5 per cent.

But these upfront costs can be recouped. H2, for example, is designed to use 30 per cent less energy than a conventionally designed building, so running costs are lower.

“When you look at economics in terms of sustainability, you need to consider the life-cycle costs of the building, including the operational cost,” says Chan. “A green building might cost more initially, but there are huge operational savings throughout the life of the building. So if you look at the whole-life cost, it actually saves you money.”

Smarter buildings are integral to the greening of cities, but they aren’t the end of the story. What happens between buildings – and beyond them – also has significant implications for sustainability. New approaches to planning are helping to minimise the negative effects of urban development, and to create more attractive and liveable cities.

“Planning sets the die for what will happen further down the line, and it has the single greatest influence on overall carbon reductions,” says Mark Hewlett, associate for low carbon and sustainability at Atkins. “The scale is important in terms of what you can achieve in integrating urban planning and design, transport and utility infrastructure provision. What we are doing at Atkins is creating new planning approaches that link in with what we do in other areas, using a highly integrated, holistic approach.”

Launched in May this year, Atkins’ Eco-Low Carbon (ELC) urban planning methodology was developed with funding from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and co-funding from the Chinese government. The central role of urban planning, with “front loading” of ELC approaches and methods from the earliest stages of the urban planning process, is increasingly recognised as vital in implementing the vision of China’s National New-type Urbanisation Plan (2014-2020), released in March this year.

The ELC urban planning methodology is closely aligned with Atkins’ global Future Proofing Cities (FPC) initiative. The FPC approach provides city planners and managers with a holistic, integrated, solution-focused framework to address the key global challenges of the 21st century of human induced climate change, resource scarcity and ecological degradation and to develop truly sustainable cities. FPC concepts and methods have been adapted and tailored for Chinese urban planning based on international and Chinese best practice.

“In essence, for urban planners ‘eco’ means open space and ‘low carbon’ means buildings and infrastructure, including transport,” says Hewlett. “One of the key things we focus on is the relationship between land use and transport, because a lot of urban sustainability issues revolve around optimising the relationship between these two fundamental elements of the plan.”

Open space planning is a vital part of the equation. “Increasingly, this is focused on trying not only to protect areas of high ecological value, but also to incorporate and enhance ecological assets of different types within the plan, with a strong emphasis on climate responsive and context sensitive approaches,” says Hewlett.

The many benefits of multifunctional green spaces in cities include recreation and general amenity, higher land values, enhancing biodiversity, providing shade and wind breaks, reducing urban heat island effects, improving water quality and reducing the impact of surface water runoff in drainage systems. And attractive, intelligently planned open space encourages the uptake of “slow transport” – walking and cycling – rather than carbon-intensive car journeys, with additional health and well-being benefits.

“If your land use supports a lower carbon transport network, you’re typically looking at a 30 per cent or more potential reduction in transport related carbon emissions straight off the starting block, compared with a plan that isn’t optimised,” says Hewlett. “Ecolow carbon approaches can have impressive benefits. It’s just a question of plotting the right path. The ELC urban planning methodology provides clear, practical, step-by-step guidance for hands-on use as an everyday working tool, designed to be fully integrated with the Chinese urban planning system.”

Asia Pacific,

The spread of mobile devices and increased connectivity have led to a new wave of innovation and apps that fuse the physical space and the digital. How is this technology transforming the construction sector and how can it be used to drive improvement, efficiency, engagement and sustainability?

Anyone who has spent time in front of a games console will know what it’s like to be drawn in by technology. The games industry has spent decades pioneering software that lets users enter and explore virtual environments and scenarios.

The same technology has been used by other sectors where companies have seen the benefits of not just promoting their products or services but letting potential customers interact with them. While its use hasn’t been widespread, that’s now changing. Augmented reality – or AR as it is known – has now become accessible.

People can look at an object or place through the camera on their smartphone or tablet – or, in future, via wearable tech (Atkins is already experimenting with the use of virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift to make the experience real and allow engineers the chance to step inside the designs) – and their live view will be supplemented by computer-generated content such as information, video or images. Shoppers can download a store’s app to see what a particular item of furniture will look like in their living room before they buy or explore the latest features of a new car without visiting the showroom. It’s being implemented by museums and manufacturers – and by the engineering world.

A closer look

According to Gareth Tissington, technical lead of mobile development creative design at Atkins, AR will be a game changer for the building sector. It’s portable across devices and is easy to use, which allows those working in construction to present solutions in a way that hugely enhances how architects, engineers and planners share their ideas and designs.

“Overlaying information such as 3D images or GPS coordinates on a view of the physical world opens up incredible possibilities,” he says. “You can see a structure in context before it’s built. We’re already working with clients that have welcomed this technology because they want to stand on site and see where their planned infrastructure will sit in relation to what’s already there.”

Incorporating 3D images allows users to assess information from a number of different angles and even peel back layers to see what’s underneath.

Tissington adds that, by adopting a 3D-first approach early on, the models can be used for everything from designing infrastructure, buildings and masterplans to visualising them for the public during the planning application and consultation phase, and for anyone who will be working on the project.

“By having the model in a gaming environment, we can place people into it and help them become familiar with its intricacies before they even step on site,” he says.

“If you created a model of your asset and put it on the desk in front of you, you would feel comfortable picking it up and turning it around, or bringing it closer to you so you can see the detail,” explains Barry Nay, a technical leader in Atkins’ wastewater networks team, who is using AR to engage with clients. “You might even take a step back so you can look at it from a distance to check the aspect ratio is correct. Now you can do the same thing with augmented reality.”

Nay points out that, unlike physical models, AR allows teams to troubleshoot in real time and explore places that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to go.

“For example, it’s difficult to understand potential health and safety implications when you only have 2D drawings,” he says. “Even in 3D, it can be difficult to appreciate them at the design stage given the scale of some of the projects – you just don’t feel the problems. But with AR you can examine all the individual areas and think about how you enter them, how you clean them and maintain them. You can also identify what changes could be made early on to eliminate the risk altogether.”

Better connections

Work is being done to take this technology forward and apply it to large-scale infrastructure projects. It builds on the momentum created by the introduction of building information modelling (BIM) in the UK and supports information sharing throughout the lifecycle of a project. According to Nay, AR complements BIM in that it also has the potential to drive more effective and efficient ways of working, not least because it allows issues to be addressed before a project leaves the feasibility or design stage. And the joined-up approach that BIM promotes, when used in collaboration with emerging technology, has the potential to deliver significant benefits.

“Imagine arriving at a pump station with a work order to take out a pump. You put on your Google Glasses or other wearable tech and the system immediately alerts you to the maintenance and health and safety issues that you need to be aware of,” says Nay.“The benefits for the industry in capturing this sort of information and making it available to people – regardless of what company they work for or region they work in – really are enormous.”

AR in the future

Analysts are predicting massive growth in AR over the next few years and there is already evidence of its expansion into a wide range of sectors: “The way we go about design is going to change,” says Guy Ledger, a director in Atkins’ water and environment business.

“The feedback we get by improving our conversations with clients will allow us to deliver results more quickly, engage the whole of the supply chain earlier in the project and, ultimately, produce better solutions. We’re also going to learn by working in collaboration with our partners and that will create opportunities for innovation.”

Ultimately, Ledger sees it as a chance to attract and inspire the engineers and designers of the future: “Innovations like augmented reality give us the chance to change young people’s perceptions of our industry and show them what an amazing career it can offer.”

Take a look at some real life examples of how Augmented Reality is being used:


Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

In 2006, Falkirk Council and British Waterways Scotland (later, Scottish Canals) were trying to resolve two related problems: how to regenerate derelict industrial land between Grangemouth and Falkirk, and how to overcome a low bridge carrying the M9 motorway over the River Carron that meant that canal traffic could only enter or leave the Forth and Clyde Canal at low tide.

The answer to the former was the new 350-hectare Helix urban park; the answer to the latter was a short extension to the canal with a new lock, with the two projects merging into one.

“A plan evolved to create two sculptures for the park, which would at the same time form an integral part of the lock mechanism, using the weight of the sculptures to displace the required amount of water to flood the central lock and lift boats into the canal network,” explains Felicity Starr, a senior mechanical and structural engineer with Atkins. The company has significant experience helping to create or upgrade memorable landmarks, from improving accessibility and safety at the Statue of Liberty to the Newbiggin Bay coastal scheme and, recently, the designs for Plymouth’s new History Centre.

Backing the right horse

Sketches were made of the sculptures, based on “kelpies” – the mystical equine creatures said to inhabit the lochs and pools of Scotland. The idea was a winner, but the sketches convinced everyone that engineers would be well advised to defer to a professional artist.

Andy Scott was a natural choice. He had already established a reputation for large public sculptures. He frequently sculpts horses: his 4.5m-tall Heavy Horse was already a popular landmark beside the M8 motorway near Glasgow. With one much smaller and simpler exception, he had always built his sculptures himself. Now he had to create two major structures with a design that could be fabricated and assembled at an acceptable cost. This was an altogether different challenge – and one where he needed engineering help.

The first creative stages were for Scott alone. He subtly shifted the brief away from mythological kelpies towards the heavy horses – the Clydesdales, Shires and Percherons – which would once have pulled boats along the Forth and Clyde canal.

His initial sketches were developed into small-scale clay models, and then a pair of 1:10 scale maquettes, created by hand-welding individually cut rectangular plates onto a wire frame. The mosaic effect created by the flow of the plates and the view through the openings captured the horses as if in motion.

These helped secure the lottery funding which enabled the whole Helix park development to go ahead. Scott was then commissioned to build a second set of maquettes, exactly as he wanted them to appear. Now came the period of collaboration and compromise.

At full scale, the open steel surface would be an invitation to adventurous visitors to climb the structure, so the engineers suggested that the bottom three metres should have a smooth, foothold-free surface.

Choice of material was also an area in which engineers provided a steer: a stainless steel surface supported by a structure in painted carbon steel would have a much longer life than the galvanised steel Scott usually works with. Engineers also recommended a glare-free milled finish for the stainless steel plates to minimise the risk of dazzling motorists on the nearby M9 motorway.

Atkins scanned Scott’s second set of maquettes to produce a 3D computer model of the surface. A file was created that reproduced each plate by recording the coordinates of three points on its surface.

The biggest engineering problem was how to replicate the surface, with its 9,000-plus plates, at full scale. A solution was to consolidate groups of plates, with laser-profiling to represent the separate sheets. These would then be bent in three dimensions to approximate the changes in angle between adjacent plates.

But how to avoid the costs and complications of shop-bending more than 900 sheets of steel in three dimensions?

“The answer was to erect the plates as flat sheets, and then use bolts to bend them to the shape of the underlying structure,” says Starr. “This required careful design of the support structure, both to locate the bolt positions in the right place to achieve the required curvature, and to take the bending loads.”

Bolting horses

Long consideration was given to the bolts holding the skin to the structure. Besides taking the design loads, these bolts had to be tamper-proof to deter both vandals and metal thieves. They would also have to be vibration-resistant: wind tunnel tests on early models and computer simulations showed not only large loading from the high winds in the area, but also the likelihood of eddies causing high fluctuating loads.

The answer was borrowed from the railway industry: huck bolts, used in rail vehicles but rarely in construction. A huck bolt is a cross between a bolt and a rivet, consisting of a grooved pin and a smooth collar. After inserting the pin into a pre-drilled hole, the installation tool grips the “tail” of the pin and squeezes the collar over the grooves to form a tight joint.

“The biggest advantage of using huck bolts was that they allowed engineers to cope with the relatively large gaps between the panel and the brackets underneath before the tightening process,” says Starr. Panels could now be “pulled” using soft strops to a location close to the required shape, with the remaining gap closed up during bolt installation; this was essential to the panel-pulling system proposed. The bolts worked well, proving quick and simple to install.

During the design phase, the idea of using the sculptures as part of the lock mechanism was replaced with a proposal that they should be free-standing structures, enabling the public to go inside.

“From early work with the maquettes, Andy and Atkins had realised that the inside of the heads could be works of art in their own right, and this in turn required the internal supporting structure to be part of the sculpture,” says Starr. “In any event, the supporting structure would be partly visible through perforations in the skin, so it had to look right from the outside.”

Standard engineering structures are robust and geometric, but Scott wanted something that captured the form of the horse, recognising that there are no straight lines in nature. That meant setting out the columns and structural members to avoid equal spacing and prevent the lines of the structure beneath jarring with the flow of the skin plates.

The engineers and sculptor had to collaborate closely, poring over Scott’s books on equine anatomy to gain an understanding of the natural muscle form and to look at how this could feed into the steel design.

“These studies led to the back under the mane and the natural bulge under the throat being used to hide some of the additional supporting structure,” recalls Starr. “In places, curves were compromised by using straight pieces of steel which, when joined together, look like curves.”

The resulting supporting structure comes in two parts. The first is a structure based around twin-braced triangular trusses, interconnected by bracing frames to form an efficient and stiff primary structure. This supports a secondary frame following the internal surface of the skin, consisting of cladding rails carrying the brackets which pick up the thousands of fixing points for the stainless steel skin.

Particular attention was given to the details of ears, eyes and chin, where the surface curvature was greatest and the steelwork most complex, and to the horses’ manes.

First past the post

The design for the whole structure was refined to ensure that it could be fabricated and assembled, and was put out to competitive tender. The £5 million contract was won by steel fabricator SH Structures.

A BIMsight building information model was used to exchange information between artist, engineer and fabricator. The model contained all the design detail, but fabrication and assembly drawings still needed to be prepared: nearly 2,000 were eventually produced.

SH Structures fabricated the structure in its own workshops, assembled into the largest pieces that could be carried by road.

The whole structure was far too large to test-assemble before delivery, but each adjacent frame was match-fitted to its neighbour before leaving the workshop to ensure a perfect fit on site. A computer program helped define the lifting points for each frame and the correct sling lengths, so that the frame would be at the right inclination for assembly from the crane.

“Erection on site was remarkably straightforward, with no heavy cranes or complex access systems required,” notes Starr. “All of the skin was added on site, most of it ‘in the air’ after the structure was erected: the exceptions were the more complex sections such as around the mouth, where the skin was added at ground level before lifting into place. The whole erection process was completed in 90 days.”

The Helix park, with The Kelpies as its centrepiece, was opened in April 2014 to international acclaim. Visitor numbers in the first two months were 150,000 – already half the number predicted for the first full year.

It has since been awarded the Saltire Society 2014 Civil Engineering Award, which recognises excellence in civil engineering in Scotland.

Based on an article that appeared in Ingenia, the magazine of the Royal Academy of Engineers in the UK.

UK & Europe,

“[It] is hard to be optimistic about the state of soil nationwide” – thus read a statement published on the official website of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) early in 2014, alongside the results of its latest soil survey report. “Some regions are suffering from relatively heavy pollution, the quality of soil in planting areas is worrying, and the problem of waste from industry and mining also stands out.”

As with all successful industrialised nations, rapid growth in China has brought with it unintended consequences. This includes the contamination of large tracts of land due to factories producing electronic and industrial goods leaching heavy metals into soil, and chemical pollutants and fertilisers disrupting the local ecosystem. The resulting contaminated areas – estimates range up to around 200,000 individual sites – are not fit for human habitation or development.

According to the MEP’s study, 16.1 per cent of the soil samples and 19.4 per cent of its arable land showed contamination – 82.8 per cent of the contaminated samples contained toxic inorganic pollutants, including cadmium, mercury, arsenic, chromium and lead.

“Due to long periods of extensive industrial development and high pollutant emissions, some regions have suffered deteriorating land quality and serious soil pollution,” the MEP conceded. This contamination burden requires clean-up, or remediation, to bring the land back into safe, most beneficial use.

Yufeng Guo, technical director of water and environment for Atkins in China, is at the forefront of Atkins’ efforts to develop its remediation business in China, and it hasn’t been a simple process – “The market hasn’t really been open up until now,” he says.

Guo explains that, up to now, remediation work has largely been done by local Chinese companies, procured by the local government. However, he says, they didn’t always have the full range of skills and solutions. As a result, China continues to face a challenge in its efforts to reclaim and repair the land lost to industrial and agricultural pollution.

Cleaning up

What would a typical remediation project in China look like?

“It’s complex because the nature of the contamination may vary,” explains Guo. “It may stem from heavy metal or chemicals, or agricultural waste in the form of pesticides. There are all kinds of pollutants with different levels of impact on the soil, opening up different types of risks to public health and the environment.”

The first step in the process is a full survey of the affected land. It’s a process that Mathew Worboys, head of contaminated land and water with Atkins in the UK, knows all about, having led a team of around 100 reclamation professionals on a range of projects in the UK, including remediating the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park site before the London 2012 Olympic Games. Atkins has been actively involved in the practice of regeneration of derelict and contaminated land into productive uses in UK and worldwide since the mid-1980s.

“First, we gather all the available historical data – often looking at old maps – and plans of the site, as well as the land form,” says Worboys. “Then we look at the geology – depending whether you have sand, clay or rock under a site, any contamination spillages that may have occurred could appear in different places or could have moved elsewhere. We conceptualise the site based on all available information, including having a look and walking over the area.”

Once on site, Worboys’ team will aim to identify the main areas where contamination might be focused: “For example, if petrol is stored in a tank on site, then we check whether there’s been any petrol spills around that area. We scale that up to things like a gasworks, oil refinery and whatever else the use might have been, to investigate potential sources. Based on our experience, we can then tell where the highest risk areas are and what might be involved in a clean up.”

The next phase, Worboys explains, involves an intrusive survey: holes are drilled, samples taken and soil or groundwater is analysed for chemical content in laboratory conditions, and so on.

“We gather that data and refine our conceptualisation of the site,” he says. “There are accepted environmental health and human health indicators about what levels of contamination are applicable under different land uses. We use these levels as a baseline, to emphasise why some results are considered unacceptable and to underline the fact that something needs to be done.”

Making right

Once the analysis is complete, Worboys’ team focuses on the physical, biological or chemical remediation of the site: “There are many different options and methods,” he says. “It depends on the client’s programme, cost considerations, technical issues and the carbon efficiency; for example, the environmental sustainability of digging up a whole site and disposing of any contaminated material elsewhere may be a simple solution, but is often not sustainable and can be expensive.”

The range of solutions includes the increasingly popular methods of bio-remediation –which involves digging out and cleaning the soil of its contaminants with the aid of microbes – and soil washing – where the soil is physically washed, spun and dried to remove contaminants. In both cases these can be done on the site and the soil returned to the ground.

That doesn’t mean the soil must be absolutely clean, it just needs to be fit-for-purpose. Will the site be used to construct residential properties, a children’s playground or an industrial complex? Will it be open to the public with no restrictions? Or largely housing warehouses or a car park? The answers to these will determine – in part – the type of and extent of the solutions being proposed.

”Whatever the remedy, the resulting land should be suitable for its use, and not present a risk to the environment and ecosystem,” says Worboys. “If it is to be a car park, you don’t necessarily have to remediate a site to the point where it could be used for housing with gardens or agriculture and planting.”

Time will tell

Of the many challenges, Yufeng Guo says one of the biggest hurdles facing developers and local authorities in China is the fact that successful remediation doesn’t happen overnight – indeed, the lifecycle of some projects can run to a decade or more.

“Finding the right remediation treatment takes time, not every approach will work,” he explains. “That uncertainty can be caused by several factors. For example, sometimes it isn’t possible to do a full survey and you’re limited to checking a grid that may have 50 or 100 metres between samples – it depends on the density of the boreholes. That affects your understanding of the soil being surveyed.

“We work closely with contractors to monitor whether the chosen solution is proving effective and we adjust things if necessary, in order to achieve the ideal treatment.”

Along with its technical experience, Atkins has a track record of helping authorities finance remediation projects – work that can be too costly for one municipality to bear on its own.

“Proper planning is really important on the project side and that’s where Atkins’ expertise lies,” says Guo. “Contamination and remediation work is costly and government funding to treat the contaminated soil is not limitless. There is a need for private funding and investment at the treatment stage. That involves putting together a clear and comprehensive plan to attract investment to help with the cost.”

There is no doubting the scale of the challenge facing China. The first steps have been taken, and these may be the first moves on what promises to be a long term effort to cleanse China’s contaminated lands. As the proverb says, “To get through the hardest journey, we need take only one step at a time – but we must keep on stepping.”

Asia Pacific,

Cyber resilience

09 Oct 2014

Cyber-attacks on electricity grids, water supplies and transport systems aren’t just a theoretical possibility: they’re already happening. A new Atkins-built simulator is helping infrastructure operators to identify and communicate where the dangers lie.

It’s 7am on an ordinary Monday morning. But as you step out of bed, it’s soon clear something’s wrong.

The bathroom light doesn’t work. The shower produces only a trickle of water and it’s stone cold. Down in the kitchen, the gas won’t come on. Your mobile still has some charge but you can’t make a call because the line’s dead, along with your Wi-Fi and landline. Outside, it’s gridlock – all the traffic lights are out of action, staff are turning away passengers at the railway station. No trains. No power. No signalling. Too early to say when things will be back to normal…

The scenario described above may sound unlikely. But it is no longer impossible – 2014 has already seen extensive cyber-espionage campaigns launched against energy sector companies both in the US and Europe – attacks which gave hackers the opportunity to mount sabotage operations against their targets.

Earlier this year, the US Department of Homeland Security reported that a public utility had been compromised when a sophisticated threat actor gained unauthorised access to its control network. This wasn’t just a one-off: during 2013, the Department dealt with more than 170 reported cyber-attacks against the energy, water and transport sectors.

Critical infrastructure at risk

Water, gas, electricity and transport networks are vital for economic and social wellbeing. But they’ve never been more vulnerable – and in many cases, all that’s needed to hack them is a PC and an internet connection.

Industrial control systems (ICSs) are the crux of the problem. These systems are used to provide centralised control of remote devices, such as valves, pumps and switches. The ability to orchestrate the operation of such devices, which number in the thousands in large networks, is vital for the normal operation of utilities and transport systems.

“In the past, industrial control systems benefited from security through obscurity – nobody knew they were there,” says Dr Ian Buffey, technical director for Atkins’ industrial control systems cyber security. “They ran on obscure platforms and, crucially, they were typically not connected to anything. But that’s changed.”

The ICS domain is enormous and embraces a wide range of technologies, including supervisory control and data acquisition systems and distributed control systems. Elements such as programmable logic controllers and remote telemetry units are also part of the equation.

As industrial control systems have grown in size and complexity, providing communications links has become increasingly expensive. So instead of continuing to use isolated proprietary networks and protocols to run them, operators have increasingly opted for the ubiquitous, low-cost connectivity offered by the internet. And that introduces a whole new raft of vulnerabilities.

“Around the time of 9/11, people started looking at vulnerability to threats and realised these systems were now connected,” says Dr Buffey. “They were running on commodity hardware and operating systems, and to a large extent commodity software as well. So they’d moved from being these really obscure things to basically the same kind of things many people ran on their office desktops.”

Unlike attacks on corporate IT networks, where confidential data is usually the target, the purpose of infiltrating an ICS system is to cause disruption. Typically, this is achieved with malware and attempts to infect systems may persist for weeks or even months. But in some cases, all an attacker needs is a web browser – and access is instant.

This is possible because a growing number of ICS endpoints are IP-addressable. In many cases, security on these devices is poor or non-existent because internet connectivity was added by the manufacturer as an afterthought. And thanks to one search engine, described by CNN as the “scariest” on the internet, identifying those vulnerable ICS devices online is easy.

Wireless connections are another weak link. In some control systems, radio transceivers are used to monitor variables such as temperature and pressure. By transmitting fake readings, a hacker can fool the central control system into shutting down critical operations with potentially disastrous results.

Isolating control systems from public networks doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. Malware infections can be introduced easily via portable media, either maliciously or accidentally. Stuxnet, a computer worm that targets control systems, is typically introduced via an infected USB stick. And there’s always the risk that a rogue member of staff – or negligence – could disrupt the operation of industrial control systems.

“The human factor is a real challenge,” says Roger Cumming, technical director of Atkins’ security business. “You’ve got equipment that needs to run 24 hours a day. You’ve got engineers working shifts and lots of different people who will need to engage with a particular control system. And if you’re wearing a huge pair of industrial gloves, you’re going to have to take them off to touch the keyboard. So one of the challenges is authenticating yourself in a way that’s suitable for the environment.”

The longevity of control systems creates problems of its own. “The lifetime of some these components can be 20 years. People don’t replace them for security reasons and they’re often more scared of the cure than they are of the threat,” says Dr Buffey. “And as systems grow, you end up with a lot of different products from different vendors all at different stages in the life cycle.”

Given the risks, why has so little been done to protect industrial control systems? “Control systems tend to be brittle,” he observes. “It’s hard enough to get them going and once they’re working, people tend to leave them alone. If there’s any kind of resilience testing, it’s done early in the life of the system.”

Highlighting the dangers

To articulate these problems, Atkins has developed an ICS demonstrator that illustrates some of the challenges involved in protecting control systems used in three types of infrastructure: rail, power and water.

The demonstrator, built by Atkins’ specialist model-making department, can be controlled remotely over the internet with the results observed via webcam. “You can dial up this model using a broadband connection and alter the security configuration,” says Cumming. “This makes it possible to explore the impacts of good and bad security procedures – and to observe the consequences of a cyber-attack.”

The demonstrator highlights the way critical infrastructure systems are increasingly interconnected: disruption of the electricity grid, for example, has the potential to unleash havoc on rail networks – which rely on electricity whether they are electrified or not – as well as gas and water distribution networks which depend on electrical energy to operate high-performance pumps, compressors and valves.

It’s not only critical infrastructure systems that are vulnerable. The rise of the internet-of-things and the race to adopt machine-to-machine technologies means that risks are accelerating everywhere. With smart energy meters now being rolled-out in homes throughout the developed world, the potential impact of a wide-spreading worm or piece of malware is now greater than ever.

“The cyber security world is possibly ten years behind corporate IT security in terms of the understanding what the issues are and the spread of protective measures,” says Cumming. “Tackling the problem starts with raising the level of awareness.”

North America, UK & Europe,

The delivery, and ongoing management, of urban infrastructure is a critical and essential driver of economic growth for nations in both the developed and developing world. The provision of this infrastructure is a major determinant of how cities can expand and is a key component of city and regional leaders’ investment ambitions.

Urbanisation must not just be about building new infrastructure but about managing cities sustainably to deliver the energy, water, transport and public realm requirements we all need and desire. To do this effectively we need a strategic and integrated approach to planning, focused both on creating synergies within our infrastructure networks and on a long-term sustainable approach to new infrastructure development.

We must also remember that cities are not just vehicles to enable economic growth and to create wealth, they are also the home and / or the workplace for millions of human beings across our planet, and also home to a myriad of social and cultural centres.

Cities need a “buzz” and an aesthetic lure if they are to be truly successful, it is not purely about their function. Delivering cities that make it easier for people to live in is key. But equally so, is making places that people choose to live and visit, places that are by their nature homes to innovation and enterprise. This will allow existing businesses to deliver their strategy and grow with both the culture and amenities to attract and retain the best talent.

So what are the critical factors required to enable a more integrated approach to urbanisation and to ensure that cities put humanity at the centre of their thinking?

One answer to this is in the “beautiful simplicity” of capturing and using all the relevant data to design and predict the performance of physical assets during their lifetime and to ensure that they are truly fit for today and resilient against future risk.

Decision-making must be informed by evidence on the understanding both of the demand for services as well as the supply side performance. Big Data is now allowing us to capture and analyse building performance as well as fully understanding the movement of people through cities and how this impacts on the built environment. New technologies are emerging such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) that allow us to build projects “virtually” before building them physically, meaning we can optimise safety, better manage the sourcing and use of materials and improve carbon and ecological footprints. By minimising waste through the adoption of lean manufacturing technologies into construction,and using BIM to precisely plan the installation phase, we save both waste and time. These savings can become the economic fuel to invest in early adoption of new materials, such as composites, which by design are lean, low carbon and fit for life. We are creating a new “virtuous circle”for infrastructure projects.

Another enabler is the adoption of a more collaborative approach across sectors and institutions to ensure all are working towards common goals. Ultimately there must be a much higher level of customer focus to create excellence in design and delivery of infrastructure, so that performance and progress is not measured in lengths of track or pipe but in terms of the economic, environmental and social benefits it creates for communities.

We must also give due care and attention to the maintenance and improvement of existing infrastructure assets. Overall the challenge needs to be seen not as “how do we build more infrastructure?” but “how do we also improve the performance of existing services and systems?”

As stressed by the World Bank, economic development needs to be driven by genuine improvements in productivity through increased efficiency rather than purely by the accumulation of capital assets.

As we move forward there must be a focus on multi-agency working designed to address common objectives such as climate change, resilience, poverty reduction and economic growth. Investment must be targeted at maximising contributions to growth by driving infrastructure efficiency as well as capacity.

All of this requires technical know-how to ensure infrastructure is not developed in isolation, nor as a proxy for progress, but as part of sustainable economic development in which cities play an increasingly important role.

Our role as planner, designer and engineer, is becoming more complex and provides an exciting challenge for our industry as a whole. We must sit alongside the world’s politicians, and leading economists and scientists to help create a new brighter future that puts the human being at the centre of city development.

This feature originally appeared on the World Economic Forum blog on 29 September 2014.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

In 1800, the German Romantic writer Jean Paul made the observation that Berlin “ist mehr Weltteil al seine Stadt” – a part of the world rather than a city. Much the same can be said of international rail today.

Efficient links between towns, cities and countries have never been more critical. Where business and industry form the heartbeat, sustainable transport networks form the arteries. This interdependency is vital to cultural and economic growth, and could lead to a global rail network.

The challenges and opportunities for the rail market in the coming years will be driven by three main factors: urbanisation, technology and sustainability in its fullest sense.


The world is anticipated to reach nine billion people by 2050, with 75 per cent of the global population expected to live in urban areas. Cities themselves will change as well: it has been projected that there will be 41 “mega-cities” around the world by 2030, each with populations of 10 million or more.

A legacy of ineffective public transport planning and a surge in travel demands could quickly cripple public infrastructure, leaving it unable to cope with passenger numbers.

“Future proofing” this brave new world involves evolutionary change: adaptation of existing assets, additional capacity and new infrastructure designed to withstand future risks.

Whole-journey thinking will be required to ensure that inter-modal travel within urban areas is supported by local transport connections and payment systems that operate across all modes and providers. High speed rail and metros could hold the key.

High speed rail alone is expected to attract $900 billion in global investment between 2010 and 2020. It can shape economic geographies and form part of a wider strategic plan so that investment can be judged against a contribution to economic growth, social cohesion and environmental improvement. These intentions are at the heart of the UK’s High Speed 2 (HS2) project, a planned state-of-the-art high-speed railway between London, the English Midlands and North.

Similarly, “Flagship City Investments” in urban transit metro systems have become increasingly popular in the Middle and Far East, with notable highlights in Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.

These future rail networks require visionary leadership. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, made this clear when he asked Atkins to design a metro that was not only technically advanced but attractive in design. The number of passengers using the lines has exceeded all expectations – quite remarkable for a city that was once as congested as LA during rush hour.

The future networks will ensure that cities, mega-cities and surrounding regions can deliver economic growth, have access to the workforce they need and offer people communities where they want to live and work, even with the ongoing spread of urbanisation.


Technology will deliver a “smart” approach to the challenge of urbanisation, allowing the rail sector to support a new wave of economic growth while delivering the ambitions of our increasingly smart cities.

For example, the introduction of the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is facilitating greater interoperability, which will boost cross-border services. In future, this will enable transport networks to create intermodal hubs by bringing together high-speed, metro and light rail with other forms of travel.

Denmark is already seeing clear benefits in rail technology investment. Atkins is helping to deliver Banedanmark’s ERTMS project, which includes the complete re-signalling of the country and the introduction of a Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system in Copenhagen.

We must innovate to create new solutions and cost efficiencies. But this cannot be achieved in isolation. Several leading engineering firms have forged alliances with research institutions and universities to address this challenge. For example, Atkins recently agreed a strategic cooperation with Heriot-Watt University to create a Centre of Excellence for High Speed Rail and Atkins, together with several other companies and organisations, supports the rail education programme at the Danish Technical University.

New technology relating to ticketing, passenger preferences and overall travel patterns, informed by Big Data, will prove similarly influential in future.

Big Data provides insight into how systems work, how people move and make travel and spending choices, and can be used to influence behaviour and refine operations. Real-time diagnostic information on asset performance is now helping the rail industry manage its assets more efficiently and effectively under increasingly punishing usage cycles allowing great savings in costs.

Composites and other advanced and smart materials are also having an impact – Atkins is part of a consortium, led by London Underground, which developed a commercially feasible lightweight train door using state-of-the-art composite materials. And there is more to come, including carbon composites in modern bridge design and geo-textiles for more cost effective construction and lightweight yet extremely durable structures.

Implementation of new systems and technologies such as these is happening at different rates around the world as regions and countries try to shape the future of their transport systems to move people and to stimulate their economies. But developing regions and cities are moving fast to design and build new metros and inter-urban rail networks, with high-speed investment following.

Technology will be a catalyst for change not only in the way existing networks are enhanced and new lines are delivered, but also in the systems that support the wider integration of transport and travel needs across modes.


While urbanisation drives the evolution of the railways and technology makes it happen, pressure builds on both environmental and economic sustainability.

In environmental terms, the rail industry can be proud that it is responsible for only seven per cent of global CO₂ emissions in the transport sector as a whole. But the industry must not rest on its laurels. Through the International Union of Railways (UIC), it has set ambitious long-term targets for CO₂ reduction.

These discussions are playing a growing part in building the case for new metro and light rail systems. An electric train, for example, produces around a third of the CO₂ of an equivalent journey by car.

But policy is not keeping up with the demands being placed on rail networks. This is holding the industry back. As Sir John Armitt recommended in his review of UK infrastructure planning, we must break free of short term political pressures and build momentum on policy and investment. Doing so will allow the industry to take greater advantage of new approaches to rail, such as transport oriented development (TOD), which allows for the creation of commercial business, such as retail, restaurants and offices, inside and around transport hubs.

The Hong Kong Metro is a great example of success here, with a third of its income now coming from non-fare revenues. This can provide sustainable economic viability by spreading financial risk and creating new sources of income.

The combination of first class infrastructure with commercial enterprise at St Pancras International station in London is another example. This has created a place where people not only come to travel to Europe and elsewhere in the UK, but also to relax and enjoy the wide range of shops and services.

If these issues can be overcome, railways will be key in moving people and goods over long distances and between the megacities of the future, supporting sustainable economic development.

Making it happen

The rail sector must ensure that it is sitting at the table with politicians, economists and scientists, and informing robust decision making. Explaining and solving the technical challenges faced by the evolving railway will help deliver transformational rail and mass transit systems that people will really want to use. It will also address issues such as how to reduce the carbon footprint or decrease the land-take needed for new and existing lines.

The sector must convince politics and politicians to make the major decisions and stick to them, to be steadfast with a long-term view – and then to let the industry deal with project management and delivery. Then the public will see infrastructure being delivered on time and budget.

Then we could drastically improve the business case for developing modern systems and ensure that we deliver a global rail network, a new era for transport that links people, places, goods and skills so that, as a sector, we can make the most of the opportunities ahead.

In so doing, rail can finally become a part of the world.

This feature is based on a speech given by Atkins’ chief executive officer Professor Dr Uwe Krueger at the 2014 Innotrans Conference (24 September 2014).

Please read more of our Rail Focus features:

Rail ramps up in the Middle East

Rail electrification in the UK: going live?

Building future rail

Channel Tunnel: a shared history

Getting around the Gulf

Ringing in the interchanges

Metro for the metorpolitans

High Speed Rail: all aboard?

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

The concept of the “company town” is nothing new. Indeed, many great cities began life as mono-industrial sites. The British Industrial Revolution was born in “monotowns” in the north-west and midlands, dominated by a single industry – either textiles or coal. For most towns, however, other sectors and activities develop alongside (and in support of) the foundation industry. Many modern cities can trace their roots in such a history.

For Karamay in China’s far north west Xinjiang province, that process has taken 60 years. Karamay (meaning “black oil” in the local language) sits on one of China’s biggest oilfields, and as such since its birth in the 1950s has had little need or incentive to diversify away from its one industry.

Now, however, that has changed. While oil remains a vital part of the economic mix, local authorities have taken the far sighted decision to pursue a policy of diversification, to lessen the grip of oil, which up until recently accounted for around 90-92 per cent of GDP.

Karamay, it was decided, needed to take the next, belated step in its development: to become a vibrant, varied place to live, attracting new immigrants and offering a much broader range of social, economic and cultural resources.

Achieving that in a city like Karamay, however, wouldn’t be easy. In addition to its reliance on oil, it is the largest city the furthest distance from any ocean in the world, and has a climate that would frighten many people: the average temperatures range from minus 17°C in the winter to over 27°C in the summer. Bordered by mountains to the north and a vast expanse of desert to the south and east, its situation on China’s frontier had given it a particular feel: a working town for tough people.

John Barber, director for economic consultancy at Atkins in Beijing, explains that, faced with those various challenges, work began with local authorities in 2011 to introduce new economic activities in the city and to develop Karamay into a place where people – and not just oil workers – might want to put down roots, pursue a career and raise a family.

“It was a concern that perhaps there were not the economic opportunities for some of the younger people to stay there, because of the one dimensional nature of the economy as a whole, but also because it wasn’t very well served by a wider range of service sectors or by a full range of recreation/leisure opportunities to make it a more attractive place to live,” he says.

“The economic side of the plan involved identifying a wide range of new opportunities that could provide a more balanced economy; so we looked at providing the basis for the economy to have a greater service component that would attract more people to the area; and at creating a more balanced community that would make it more of a liveable place.”

The most visible illustration of the city’s new direction will be the construction of the Karamay Cloud Computing Industry Park, designed by Atkins and Faithful+Gould. Envisaged as a way to attract not only new businesses to the city but also help develop an indigenous IT sector, the park will cover approximately 48,000m² (above ground). But designing and building a modern, high quality park from scratch in such a tough environment is far from straightforward: the city has no experience in this type of project, especially where construction periods for building are limited by the climatic conditions.

The planning, architectural concept and detailed design phases of the project were led by Steven Smit, Atkins’ architecture design director in Shanghai, with Phil Clarke, senior associate, and Sienna Guo, architect.

Smit explains that, given the extreme climate, simply copying the generic business park approach typical elsewhere in China would not work.

“Designing a business park can be straightforward – and we’ve done quite a few – but in this unique, remote location, the design had to be more modular, which would potentially allow prefabrication.”

The client in Karamay suggested that the park buildings be lightweight – like pods. There was also the suggestion that offices spaces be linked so that people could move between them without exposure to the extreme elements, especially in winter. This resulted in an innovative design solution: a network of pods connected to a building via social hubs.

The wind presented an additional challenge: it makes the desert city colder in winter and brings hot sandstorms in the summer. The Atkins team realised that tackling this would require modifying the landscape around the park. As a result, the team designed extensive landscaped buffer zones and windbreaks in harmony with the Cloud Computing Industry Park behind.

As for the building design, the team’s remit was to focus on both utility and aesthetics, according to Clarke: “We wanted the design concept to express the idea of ‘cloud computing’, which is increasingly driving a connected world. The ‘cloud’ is becoming key to modern life and, increasingly, our phones and tablets depend on the connectivity it offers.”

“We were inspired by binary data – zeroes and ones – floating through space from our mobile phone devices to our wifi-enabled laptops and tablets,” adds Guo. Using this principle of floating data, we generated our architectural concept of limited forms that, while repetitive, can be combined in different ways like binary data.”

In many ways the work happening at the park and elsewhere in Karamay is reflective of a wider trend in China: the country has been through a stratospheric economic growth cycle over the last two decades. During that period, growth was measured in thousands of miles of track, or millions of square feet: raw growth, where quantity and scale are the basic measures of progress.

Now, though, Chinese authorities and planners are focusing on the quality of growth: is the new park built to last? Does it meet international standards? Is it sustainable? Will it attract people to work there, from within China and beyond? These more nuanced metrics have, to a large extent, driven the work in Karamay.

“The trend to focus more on quality will benefit international design consultants like Atkins, if we can truly deliver on the vision of quality and innovation,” says Smit. “Local planners have been necessarily concentrating on quantitative targets for the past 20 years. The current shift up the value chain means designing and constructing buildings better and more efficiently, using fewer materials but preserving growth at the same time. This brings with it both challenges and opportunities.”

Indeed, focusing on developing IT and R&D capabilities, masterplanners in Karamay are hoping to turn its unique geographic location to their advantage. From its base in the far north west, the city is actually more oriented outwards, towards China’s central Asian neighbours. As China’s most north-westerly province, Xinjiang is bordered by seven different countries.

Barber says that the early stages of the planning revealed that neighbouring states had just as much interest in Karamay’s development as did the Chinese: “When we were discussing this with some of the trade and investment promotion agencies in neighbouring countries, we found them very open to engagement.”

For many of these countries, access to the latest technological infrastructure, like cloud computing, as well as financial and professional services that weren’t readily accessible, was especially attractive.

According to Barber, it’s a great opportunity for the whole region, and the Cloud Computing Industry Park is just the start: further software companies are expected to relocate, with major investment in developing Karamay’s exhibition and R&D sector, while improved transport links are also part of the mix. In doing so, Barber says, Karamay’s local planners – with Atkins’ help – are building a brave new world out there in the desert.

“These guys are breaking down a number of barriers in terms of doing business, attracting people to the area and providing sustainable lifestyles to the people that live there – it’s not easy to do, but it’s a great opportunity.”

Asia Pacific,

The rapid rate of development in the Middle East in general – and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in particular – has had a number of consequences. It has established the region as a significant financial centre; workers of all types have flocked in to meet the demand for labour, skilled and otherwise; and cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are now major centres of innovation, attracting business and skills from around the world.

But growth brings its own challenges. For the Middle East, the main one has been to develop and deepen the infrastructure across the region: as it moves from a collection of isolated city states towards a more integrated and interdependent economic bloc, transport in particular needs to improve to accommodate the needs of a growing population. And of course, these systems need to be built with one eye on sustainability and long term growth.

Driven by this continued urbanisation, large-scale rail systems are on the increase. The current main focus in the Middle East centres on metro systems. For instance, Riyadh Metro awarded $26 billion worth of projects last year to three consortia for six lines and there are similar levels of investment in Doha as well. Later in 2014 should see over $10 billion awarded for a systems and rolling stock package.

“These are big projects that are all coming to a head at the moment,” says Julian Hill, Atkins’ managing director for the Middle East Rail sector in Dubai. Hill says that, alongside the development of metro systems, work is ongoing to improve “feeder” systems, such as tram-style projects that feed into metro networks.

“Long term in the Middle East, high speed rail will be the next big thing,” says Hill. “That will link up these cities to form an alternative to the Arab aviation network.”In many ways, Hill says, the next ten years in the Middle East will mirror what’s been happening in China, where thousands of kilometres of high speed rail has been installed to link the main urban centres.

“That’s how people move around in China now and I can see that happening here, with people moving quickly between the major cities in the GCC. Once they get the metros up and working, high speed rail will be next.”

In order to stay ahead of the game for the next wave of rail development, Atkins is working with Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh to look at innovative approaches to high speed technology and how that can be used on a global level. As Hill points out, the Middle East is bound to be in the forefront of those efforts because the governments are willing to invest in such projects.

The backdrop for rail systems development in the region is one of urgent development, according to Dr Abdeljabbar Ben Salem, head of rail systems with Atkins.

“The programmes out here are extremely tight,”he says. “Typically, you’re looking at four years to build a metro project here – by comparison, a similar project in the UK could take 12 years. We have to hit the ground running to bring the systems up to speed very quickly and integrate the civils. That’s the part where we’re looking to fill.”

A question of skills

While the will and the finance may be in place, the big challenge facing firms involved in developing rail systems across the region is a shortage of qualified engineers able to solve the problems presented with building mass transit systems in a country with little heritage of rail expertise.

This can be tackled in a number of ways, says Atkins’ Hill. The company has begun to engage more with the region’s universities, focusing primarily on the civil side than on the systems. That, he says, is an easier task, given the proliferation of civil engineering expertise in the region.

Systems, however, requires a different calibre of people – it demands expertise and skills that are generally a little harder to find.

“Globally, wherever there’s significant investment in modes of transportation other than cars, there is a shortage of skills,” Hill says. “As a result, we’re increasing training, learning and development within our teams in the Middle East and that starts with the graduates and building up the team.”

Currently, several regional universities teach a range of civil engineering courses, supplying contractors with graduates with the necessary building skills, as well as architects and other related skill sets.

But as Hill points out, the type of engineering rail degree taught in the universities in the UK and Europe has yet to emerge in the Middle East.

“I’m sure that will come later on, once these systems are well established and you’re looking at operation and maintenance, asset management and other types of inputs that are required for these systems. There will be a greater spectrum of opportunity as opposed to just the front end.”

For its part, Atkins is focusing – through its investment in training and talent development – on training staff to understand systems integration, requirements management, configuration management of systems and safety.

But that’s a long term process. In the short term, in order to meet the needs of clients demanding immediate progress on big projects means scouring the world to recruit the right people – with the focus naturally falling on the areas where metro projects are coming to completion, thus freeing up the next batch of skilled engineers.

Luckily, in the battle for global systems talent, managers looking to staff projects in the Middle East have a significant advantage: the chance to develop new techniques and innovation.

“We’re attracting talented people from across the globe who want to work on major rail projects,”says Dr Ben Salem. “They get a chance to put their mark on these projects and to do things differently, and people are willing to consider more innovation in some areas.

“That’s different from the situation in Hong Kong, Singapore or the UK, where it’s more prescriptive. In the Middle East, there’s greater flexibility: you can move from one step to another quickly and come up with ideas that people will take forward–if you are able to sell those ideas.”

And while no-one wants to act the guinea pig, the countries of the Middle East are generally receptive to Atkins’efforts to innovate in a range of areas. Communications systems, for one, have proved fertile ground for innovation and trying out new ideas.

But of course, given the size and scale of the projects in which Atkins is engaged in the region, attempting to staff every project – at every skill level and across every site – is a challenge. To address this need, Atkins has made significant strides by casting its net wide to recruit the best rail talent from across the world, while also partnering with complementary consultants to meet the staffing demands for various ongoing projects.

“Our first priority is always to look internally to ensure we’re capitalising on our expertise in the UK, Europe, North America and Asia Pacific as efficiently and effectively as possible,” explains Dr Ben Salem.

“In addition, we are building our supply chain network with international and local companies to find the best ways of leveraging their valuable resources when we have a shortage and vice versa,” he continues.“We have a collaborative approach in order to offer the greatest value for our client and it’s definitely helpful.”

Middle East & Africa,

“Education, education, education”: it was the mantra that announced Tony Blair’s arrival as UK prime minister back in 1997. Blair’s commitment to improving not only the standards within the classroom but also the quality of the classroom itself was remarkable in its ambition. The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme promised to renew every secondary school in England by 2020, at a cost of £45 billion.

And while the programme never ran its entire course, it still had some startling effects: primarily a huge increase in funding, largely focused on building flagship Academy-style schools designed to impact communities, many of which were neglected and depressed.

The resulting new stock looked great – some schools built during this period of higher spending even ended up shortlisted for various architectural prizes – but did little to address the UK’s future education needs by increasing the number of school places.

“There were some fantastic schools that were built at that time,” says Andrew Shepherd, sector head with UK construction giant, Laing O’Rourke, one of Atkins’ partners in its school building efforts. “But what happened towards the end of the BSF days is that the market found a sensible medium ground, so we need to make sure we don’t lose the lessons we learned from that period.”

Fast forward to 2008 and many of the problems that this campaign promised to fix still remained: a combination of budget cuts, local and central government inertia, and pressure from competing priorities (not to mention a change of government and a population boom) have left the UK’s school estate in 2014 short of capacity and in need of repair. Estimates put the shortfall in school places at around 200,000, much of it centred in the south east.

For Philip Watson, who heads the education sector for Atkins in the UK, the current focus is on working with government to deliver on its priority school building programme (PSBP). As of May 2014, 28 schools were either under construction or open as part of the PSBP, while design work has begun at 234 schools – 90 per cent of the programme. Work on all schools is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017, two years earlier than originally planned.

The framework for the new effort has been developed by Sebastian James, the chairman of UK electronics firm Dixons, who was asked to review schools spending and procurement process by the current government.

“He produced the James Review and what he suggested was that if you standardised school design, reduced the total footprint involved and took out all the wastage, you could procure schools at about 60 per cent of the cost of what they were costing under BSF,” Watson says. “That means that if your average BSF school was costing about £2,200-£2,300 per square-metre, the priority schools building programme is down at £1,450.”

This reflects the new financial realities facing the UK’s Department of Education: how do you improve facilities and build new places in an environment where every pound spent on schools is a pound taken from defence, welfare or health?

In response to the James Review, the government says the procurement process will follow strict guidelines:

  • five batches of schools in the PSBP will be delivered via PF2, the government’s new approach to funding projects in collaboration with the private sector;
  • these batches contain 46 schools and have a funding requirement of £700 million;
  • the projects will be procured by the government’s Education Funding Agency and will use centralised procurement to maximise economies of scale and expertise; and
  • lessons learned from previous programmes will be used to streamline the procurement process.

Central to the effort to deliver a significant increase in school places at a sustainable cost is the idea of developing a standard template for school construction that can, with limited customisation, be applied across the board. The result, Watson says, should be a scalable system whereby materials can be bought in bulk at a lower cost, and design costs are minimised thanks to builders following roughly the same plan for each new school.

“It’s a simple message from procurement,” says Watson. “Here you are contractors: This is a base that we’re looking for. We’re sure you can do it better but we think if you did it something like this, you’d deliver the kind of quality environment that we need and it would be cost effective.”

It’s a fine idea, says, Laing O’Rourke’s Shepherd. But standardisation does present hurdles to be overcome.

“Designers and engineers have to respond to the local environment. If you are building a school in Devon, near the seafront, for instance, that building is going to have a lot of issues with a harsh maritime environment; meanwhile, a school in central Birmingham next to a main railway line is going to have different issues, particularly around noise; and then again, a school built into a hill in Yorkshire is going to have its own needs and challenges.

“You’ve got to respond to the local needs and demands. That’s where it’s important to have good consultants and advisers identifying those issues and responding in the most appropriate way.”

Despite the variations in environment, the hallmarks of a good school building are easy to identify: “It needs to have good light and be an acoustically solid building, so it’s not going to be noisy, or too cold or too hot,” Shepherd says. “Getting those right means the school is not going to be a disruptive environment when people are moving around and it all adds up to a good environment for learning.”

As part of the new approach, builders and designers have to deliver new secondary schools that are roughly 15 per cent smaller and primary schools five per cent smaller than the current average footprint. Adhering to those guidelines also means that designers and contractors have to work hard to find solutions to some of the more knotty problems.

It’s a challenge Watson says he relishes: “It places a lot of emphasis on multi-discipline designing, so you have to look at things in the round and not take a blinkered, single-disciplined approach to things because all the elements are inter-connected.

“For example, if you have bigger windows to increase the amount of daylight, how do you stop it over-heating in the summer? You need a shading device; that affects the architecture and the cost, and it also might then affect how much daylight gets in. When you look at it like that, it all goes round in a big circle so you have to have a holistic – and realistic – view of the building.”

Ultimately, delivering on a promise to improve a school’s facilities must take into account disruption to pupils’ education.

“If you’re 16 years old and sitting your GCSEs, and the builders are creating a racket, that isn’t a good place to be in,” says Shepherd. “That’s not giving you the best opportunity in life, so anything that good design, good engineering and good construction can do to minimise that disruption is a huge win.”

UK & Europe,

Bridges are not usually associated with high-tech materials, but that could all be about to change. Concrete and steel, the dominant bridge-building materials for more than a century, now face competition in the form of a composite material known as FRP – fibre reinforced polymer.

FRP is strong, light, resists fatigue and does not corrode – properties that make it an ideal material for building bridges. Atkins is leading one of the UK’s first FRP road bridge replacement projects in the village of Frampton Cotterell, near Bristol.

Spanning the River Frome, Frampton Cotterell’s new FRP bridge is designed to handle a full HGV loading and will replace an existing concrete and steel structure that has become damaged by corrosion. Current weight restrictions on the bridge (maximum 13T) will be removed once the work has taken place. The FRP replacement is light, meaning it can be installed in about half the time of a conventional bridge deck. And its corrosion and frost-resisting properties mean maintenance costs could be up to 50 per cent lower.

The idea of using composites in construction is not new. Wattle and daub – a mixture of mud and straw – was successfully used as a building material for centuries. Modern composites are based on the same principle: different materials are combined to create a new one with unique mechanical properties. In the case of FRP, the materials involved are high-strength glass, carbon or aramid fibres and strong polymer resins.

The emergence of composites as a viable alternative for traditional concrete and steel construction comes at a pivotal moment for the UK’s transport infrastructure. Government agencies and transport operators are increasingly seeking ways to get more out of existing assets, and to ensure that new infrastructure delivers maximum capacity from day one.

Long-spanning structures are at heart of this transformation. Smart motorways, for example, depend on gantry-mounted variable message signs spaced at regular intervals. These must span all carriageways. Rail electrification requires catenary – supporting structures to deliver power to trains.

“Transport infrastructure is undergoing enormous change,” says Professor Peter Chivers, chief executive of the government-backed National Composites Centre (NCC). “The shift towards managed motorways, the development of HS2, rail electrification, the need to eliminate level crossings and to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists – all of these will require massive deployments of bridge and gantry structures. Composites could play huge part in achieving this.”

Building better bridges

FRP structures offer a number of decisive operational benefits. Speed of construction is one of them. With rail passenger numbers up 100 per cent since 1995 and road traffic twice the level it was 40 years ago, minimising disruption is a priority.

“If you have to close a road or railway line to install a bridge, it costs significant amounts of money,” says Mike Stephens, project chief engineer at Atkins. “Because FRP is lighter than concrete and steel, you can install it much more quickly and you can get a cost saving that way.”

The low weight of FRP bridge elements also means that transportation to site is less expensive – and greener – than it is with conventional bridges. In addition, the load on existing abutments is reduced.

“If we are replacing an existing deck with a new FRP element, we know it will be lighter overall, so less detailed work is required to prove the supporting structure,” says James Henderson, group engineer at Atkins.

There’s also the question of build quality. With FRP, the bulk of bridge deck construction is carried out in the factory. Off-site manufacture (OSM) means it’s possible to control the quality of construction closely – something that is not always easily achieved with conventional materials assembled in the field.

FRP has the advantage of being easy to mould and this, too, offers benefits. At a practical level, this makes it possible to build-in access channels for cables and pipework right from the start – eliminating the need to dig up the road. Mouldability also opens up new aesthetic possibilities and the scope for iconic designs could be significant.

“The beauty with composites is that you can create anything you want,” notes Henderson. “The only limit is the budget.”

But perhaps the biggest attraction with composites is the lower cost of ownership. FRP structures do not need painting or waterproofing and are largely immune to the ravages of the weather. And they’re not affected by salt, the scourge of conventional reinforced concrete structures.

“Composite structures offer massively improved through-life costs compared to steel,” says the NCC’s Professor Chivers. “Do it properly now using composites and you will reap the reward in future.”

Advances in FRP technology are also helping to build the case for increased deployment of composite structures.

“There have been quite significant improvements in resin formulations and manufacturability over the last decade,” says Stephens. “It’s now feasible to make large structures, which it wasn’t 10 to 15 years ago.”

In tandem with this, changes in market conditions are helping to spur interest in FRP.

“Our major clients such as the Highways Agency and Network Rail are looking to move away from a project-to-project based approach and looking at an overall programme-based approach to procuring transport infrastructure,” says Chris Hendy, Atkins’ technical director, Highways and Transportation. “The supply chain is being asked to collaborate across a series of transport projects and come up with what they think is the best solution to roll out across an entire programme for best economic impact.”

The shift from one-off bespoke projects to large-scale deployments and repeatable designs could also help to tilt the balance in favour of FRP.

“One of the challenges we’ve had in trying to introduce composites into bridges is the scale problem – with small orders, the economics have never quite stacked up,” says Hendy. “But if it’s possible to agree on a standardised design for footbridges or gantries, and roll them out in large quantities, then it starts to work not only in terms of whole life costs, but also initial costs. That’s got us interested in looking at it again.”

Government is also increasingly interested in composites and it is keen to see the industry grow. The UK Composites Strategy, launched in 2009, was followed in 2011 by the opening of the National Composites Centre (NCC).

“The government is helping to facilitate the use of composites by means of organisations such as the NCC and through grant support from the Technology Strategy Board,” says Professor Chivers. “But it is down to the industry itself to take the initiative and come up with innovative products.”

An example of such innovation is a new footbridge developed by Atkins. What makes it special is its standardised, modular design – and its adaptability.

“The pedestrian envelope – the parapets and footway – are formed as a kind of U-shaped shell,” says Atkins’ Henderson. “We can take this design and use it to create a bridge that can be anywhere between 4m and 30m long.”

As well as reducing capital costs, modular designs of this sort help to reduce risk.
“The more standardisation you can have in the construction process, the less likely we all are as an industry to get it wrong when we build things,” says Hendy. “And if we have standardised components as well, then we have standardised approaches to maintenance across the network, rather than bespoke maintenance plans for every single structure – which is one of the reasons why we have maintenance problems.”

FRP’s high strength-to-weight ratio means engineers can now contemplate schemes that would once have seemed impossible. Longer suspension bridges are a case in point.

“At the moment, the viable span is around 3km,” says Hendy. “The push to go any further than that will require some reduction in the weight of the basic deck. This is where FRP materials could come in, probably still in conjunction with more traditional steel suspension cables.”

Getting the most out of composites demands a range of engineering skills. As well as tapping in to decades of expertise in bridge construction in the road and rail sector, Atkins is also drawing on its aerospace know-how – Atkins’ engineers were involved in the design of the wing of the Airbus A350, the first Airbus with both fuselage and wings made from composites.

“Knowledge exchange and cross-sector working are vital,” says Hendy. “This is something we facilitate through the technical networks which run across our businesses.”

The future for FRP looks promising. As well as its use in bridge construction, Atkins is researching new applications for composites. Among these are overhead line structures for railway electrification, rolling stock components such as doors and train cabs, and applications in the oil & gas and nuclear industries where FRP’s corrosion resistance, low weight and high strength could pay dividends.

“It’s a very exciting time because the options we can take forward are endless,” says Atkins’ Henderson. “The full potential of FRP has yet to be realised.”

UK & Europe,

Everyone who has stayed in a hospital will have views on whether the environment was comforting or stressful. A good or bad physical environment – from noise levels to room layout – can even dominate the experience.

Such issues are the subject of a growing body of research that is often incorporated into the design of modern clinical care settings. Echoing the rigorous approach used to assess the effectiveness of medical care itself, this field is known as “evidence-based design”.

Some aspects of evidence-based design are highly specific and relate to the building infrastructure, such as natural lighting or views onto greenery or open landscape, all shown by multiple pieces of research to have therapeutic benefits. Other studies have shown the use of natural, rather than artificial, materials for furniture and fitments in patient rooms can induce greater comfort and wellbeing – using cotton instead of nylon, for example, or timber instead of laminates.

“Although evidence-based design in healthcare is in its infancy, there is a growing body of credible literature in the field,” says D Kirk Hamilton, Professor of Architecture and Associate Director of the Centre for Health Systems & Design at Texas A&M University and one of the world’s leading specialists in the topic.

A 2008 research literature review in the peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary Health Environments Research and Design Journal (HERD) – of which Professor Hamilton is co-editor – already included more than 1,200 study citations linking facility design to clinical outcomes. These broke down into three main areas: patient safety issues, such as infections and medical errors; other patient outcomes, such as pain and stress; and staff outcomes, such as injuries and work effectiveness.

“This does not suggest that we know nearly enough, but it confirms that the environment has an influence on human physiology, psychology, behaviour, and social interaction,” says Professor Hamilton.

Examples include the effects of artworks on patient care, he says, whether embedded in the fabric of a building or room, or temporarily applied; both inside buildings and in the grounds outside for example sculptures.

“The best projects will reserve a portion of the budget, perhaps one per cent, for artwork,” he says. “Artwork can play a significant role in stress reduction and finding your way. Art preferences and appropriateness have been studied in North America and the UK, with strong research support for representational, non-abstract pieces, especially those incorporating nature.”

Understanding the cost

A “nice” environment may be more pleasant, but deciding exactly what kind of nice environment is the best value within inevitably limited budgets is the challenge.

Professor Hamilton agrees this is an issue, but says significant improvements can always be made for relatively small amounts, or within a longer term plan.

“The cost of facilities is fairly modest and the comparison of materials on the basis of cost is sometimes a storm in a teacup,” he says. “In the US, staff costs run to about 10 times more than facilities or capital costs in a typical annual budget for a hospital and since medical equipment, mechanical systems and interest expense make up the majority of the capital cost, the decision about plastic laminate versus impervious solid material, or vinyl flooring versus terrazzo is more minor than it seems.”

A bigger problem in financing evidence-based design is a prevailing mentality among those commissioning facilities of focusing on “first cost” – and trying to reduce it – without paying enough attention to lifetime cost, Professor Hamilton says. Another problem is a standard accounting procedure that separates operating cost from capital cost, encouraging funders to cut capital cost even when a design change can be shown to save operating cost.

Ian Tempest, director of healthcare at Atkins, agrees that design costs must be looked at in as broad a way as possible and over the long term.

“This is not just about aesthetics, nor is it necessarily more expensive at any stage – you’re saving money in the long term by shortening patient stays and cutting re-admission,” Tempest says. “There is always a balance to be achieved: sometimes it is difficult to select a natural product that is going to provide the hard-wearing characteristics you need in a care environment while withstanding the necessarily aggressive cleaning regimes. Natural wood may not always be a robust enough material for surfaces, for example. It needs to be assessed case by case and weighed up against specific use.”

One major design issue for modern healthcare facilities is the balance between single-bed rooms and multi-bed ward accommodation. Here too, there is growing base of evidence to inform design decisions, showing for example that benefits of single-bed accommodation include reducing the risk of infection between patients.

“There is clear evidence that infection can be more effectively managed where patients are in single-bed accommodation,” Tempest says. “In one UK hospital where there was an outbreak of a winter vomiting virus in 2013, there were a number of four-bed rooms where there was only one patient affected, but all beds had to be deep cleaned as consequence. In all, 24 beds were taken out of service, even though there was only one patient affected in each room. Had single-bed accommodation been available, the hospital would have only lost six beds.”

Research also supports the view that patients are better cared for by clinical and nursing staff in single-bed accommodation, with fewer errors made when administering medication, for example. It has even been found that cleaning and facilities management staff take better care of single bed accommodation, because they seem to have a greater affinity with the patients occupying each room.

Official guidelines vary, even across the UK: while the Scottish Government has stipulated that all new government-funded acute healthcare facilities should provide all in-patient accommodation in single-bed rooms, NHS England has recommended only at least 50 per cent must be single-bed; and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies have expressed a preference that 80 per cent of patients are accommodated in single rooms.

This demonstrates why designers and architects should look at evidence for each decision they make, based on similar projects, as the optimal level may vary by type of facility, Tempest says.

“My view is that 80 per cent is probably about the appropriate level,” he says. “ In some circumstances, there may be some disadvantages to single beds for some patients: some elderly patients feel isolated in their own rooms and their health may deteriorate because they miss the social interaction of a multi-bed ward.

“Paediatric patients – children and young people – can also feel too isolated in single bed rooms and they similarly prefer the company of others of comparable ages. In my opinion, the optimum is about 80 per cent single-bed accommodation, with the remaining 20 per cent used primarily by younger and older patients.”

Beyond the patient

Sometimes, research findings can be surprising in terms of the effect of design on health outcomes, and show that architects must look beyond the patients themselves, says Professor Hamilton. For example, one study found that heart surgery patients who have strong social support while in hospital survive longer after they leave, than those who did not have support in hospital.

“This could mean that designers need to provide space and accommodation for family members in cardiac surgery facilities to give the patients their best opportunity for survival,” says Professor Hamilton. “Interestingly, the findings are similar to those in several other clinical specialties.”

Poor design can also have a significant impact on the effectiveness and wellbeing of staff, as well as patients – which could then also filter through to poorer patient care.

Diana Anderson, resident physician at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, said in a 2103 BMJ Careers article co-written with Professor Hamilton that her workplace setting had almost deterred her from continuing her career: “A large part of my hesitation in pursuing advanced clinical training was because of what I considered an intolerable hospital setting. Staff facilities are frequently without windows or art, and I have found myself desperately anticipating the first ray of sunlight after a long shift.”

Overall, given the growing amount of evidence for the healthcare benefits of better design, has it become mainstream thinking in the world of healthcare architecture?

“There is a growing recognition of the evidence-based design process among the design community, especially in the healthcare industry,” says Professor Hamilton.

What can be more critical, however, is the level of awareness of these issues among the clients – hospital authorities and managers commissioning new buildings – who have rarely been provided with enough information to ensure they will properly support an evidence-based process, he says.

But even here, progress is being made. Professor Hamilton tells of one instance when an architect colleague was explaining to the chief executive of a hospital how making decisions based on the best available evidence would lead to better practice in future, to which the response came back: “Good Lord! How were you doing it before?”

North America, UK & Europe,

Demand for rail travel in Great Britain is soaring. In 2013, passengers made a record 1.5 billion journeys – twice the 1995 figure – and demand is expected to double again over the next 30 years. There are now more people using the railways than at any time since the 1920s and more capacity is needed. New lines, such as HS2 and Crossrail, are part of the solution, but squeezing more out of existing routes and boosting their green credentials are equally important.

Electrification holds the key.

“Electrification projects are really change projects,” says Bob Ducksbury, Atkins’ director of electrification. “When you electrify a railway, you completely change the service – trains travel faster, carry more passengers and accelerate and brake quicker, so journey times are reduced. That radically changes the way the railway is used by passengers and freight operators.”

The UK’s current electrification programme is the biggest in history. Over the next seven years, high-voltage overhead wiring will be extended across more than 2,000 miles of the existing network – a £2bn infrastructure upgrade that will see ageing diesels replaced with fast, green, electric trains capable of using low and zero-carbon electricity, including renewables and nuclear energy.

Few thought it would ever happen. Official enthusiasm for electrification waned throughout the early 2000s; by 2007, it had all but hit the buffers. Atkins’ report – Study on further electrification of Britain’s railway network – helped to change all that.

“It was a catalyst for converting direction,” recalls Ducksbury. “From 2010 onwards, momentum went from nothing to full bore.”

The lines being electrified include some of Britain’s busiest. Atkins is the lead design organisation for the electrification of Brunel’s iconic Great Western main line (GWML) linking London and Cardiff. It is also providing engineering design services in the London North Western (South), East Midlands and Scotland regions of the National Electrification Programme Framework. The strategic Midland main line to Sheffield and key routes around Birmingham are also being delivered under the framework.

Smarter tools

Railway electrification presents a number of tough engineering challenges. Schemes must be energy-efficient and compatible with new trains being procured under the Intercity Express Programme as well as existing rolling stock. In addition, electrification must comply with a raft of rigorous European standards governing everything from safety to on-train energy metering.

Engineers also have to make sure new high-voltage traction supplies won’t interfere with critical systems such as signalling and communications. Then there’s the need to ensure the installation, testing, commissioning and entry into service of the electrification infrastructure and electric trains are all delivered with minimum disruption. Upgrades need to fit within strict operational schedules.

The first steps include calculating how much electrical energy will be required, identifying where to tap into the National Grid and working out the best locations for transformers – vital if energy losses are to be minimised. Engineers also need to understand how different elements of the overall system – such as timetabling, power supplies and signalling – interact with each other.

To help deliver these insights, Atkins worked in partnership with the University of Birmingham to create the Multi Train Simulator (MTS) – an innovative infrastructure modelling tool for electrification, developed with support from the government-backed Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

MTS allows electrical engineers to delve deep into the physics of electrification to optimise the efficiency and safety of the power system. But it’s also a business tool and allows both train and infrastructure operators to explore scenarios: what happens if you increase the speed and weight of trains? Add a new station? Alter the signalling?

The ability to answer questions like these is important because the power requirements of a railway are enormous. A single freight train, for example, pulls up to 5MW, enough to light up a small town. Even subtle changes, such as altering the position of a signal, can affect the size of the load hitting the grid. MTS not only analyses the impacts of changes, it also helps operators to optimise energy consumption – a key element of carbon critical design.

“MTS brings together the best bits that exist in the marketplace and adds our own ideas,” says Ducksbury. “It’s now our standard tool.”

Innovation overhead

Atkins’ role includes the engineering design of the overhead line equipment (OLE) – the all-important wires, insulators and masts that deliver 25,000 volts AC to trains – a system known in the industry as “knitting”.

Getting power from the trackside to a speeding train is a complex business. The grey steel masts that flash past the train window might all look the same, but each has a different design story to tell. On the GWML project alone, there will be around 20,000 of them spread across a site that is, in effect, nearly 300 miles long.

Above ground, obstacles such as junctions, bridges and level crossings influence where masts can be positioned. Tunnels, viaducts, stations and signalling, meanwhile, present additional practical and aesthetic challenges that must be worked around with care and precision.

Extreme weather must also be taken into account. Variables such as wind loading and temperature effects are carefully evaluated because these influence both the design of the supports and the spacing between them.

Below ground, engineers need to take account of soil types and underlying geology because these determine the depth and type of foundations for support masts. And buried services – gas, water, signalling cables, drainage and electricity – must all be pinpointed before piles can be driven or foundations excavated safely.

Getting all of this right means managing data on a vast scale – everything from topographical surveys to track layouts and signalling plans.

To make sense of all this complexity, Atkins is developing a new modelling system that centralises all the data and provides a suite of design tools that transforms the way OLE systems are designed and built. The solution, known as TADPOLE, is based on experience built up over the last 15 years.

“TADPOLE automates the design process and takes care of the mundane and repetitive elements, freeing engineers to focus their expertise on value-added tasks,” says Ducksbury. “Because TADPOLE is automated and process-driven, it means the error rate drops significantly. Ultimately, we’ll get it to zero.”

As well as increasing the productivity of engineering design teams, TADPOLE is designed to produce results that everybody can use, at every stage of the project lifecycle – from planning and installation using modern high-output plant, to long-term maintenance of the completed infrastructure. It also helps engineers to amend designs easily if anything changes.

“The outputs can be drawings, such as plans and sections, showing the depth of foundations, the type of structure and the components you need,” explains Ducksbury. “But if a contractor prefers to work from tables or schedules, TADPOLE can provide that as well. The tools have been designed to be BIM [building information modelling] compliant and the intelligence of the design is contained in the data file.”

Digitising the design process opens up new possibilities, including easier collaboration between designers and contractors. To accelerate this process, common ground rules are needed. Working with industry partners, Atkins recently bid for and won funding from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board to standardise input and output data standards for the electrification design process.

Arching over all of these developments is Atkins’ commitment to safety. Every project is governed by “safe by design” principles that help engineers identify and reduce risks, from deployment and maintenance right through to decommissioning.

“Safety starts at the drawing board,” says Ducksbury. “Making the right decisions at the design stage significantly improves the whole-life safety performance of the solutions we deliver.”

The way ahead

Around three-quarters of Britain’s rail traffic will be powered by electricity by the time the current phase of the electrification programme is complete. But the physical proportion of the network that is electrified will still only be 55 per cent, well behind some of the UK’s European counterparts.

Where next for electrification? Infill projects – AC electrification of the missing links – will help to meet the government’s strategic objective of increasing electric freight and accelerating travel times between cities: many journeys continue to depend on diesel traction simply because relatively short stretches of cross-country routes are either not electrified or are electrified to the legacy DC standard.

This raises the wider question of DC to AC conversion. Much of the electrified network in southern England uses the “third-rail” DC power system. Conversion to overhead AC would improve energy efficiency and make it easier to operate the longer, heavier trains that will be needed to meet growing passenger and freight demand.

Finding innovative ways to make electrification more affordable and easier to construct is a priority for Atkins. That means taking a fresh look at some old problems.

Avoiding bridge reconstruction is a case in point. Often, bridges over the railway need to be rebuilt to provide extra headroom for new overhead equipment. This is not only disruptive, but also expensive: it is estimated that about 25 per cent of the cost of electrification is for civil works, the bulk of which are related to bridge reconstruction.

One solution to this problem could be to omit overhead equipment altogether beneath bridges, with trains “coasting” through the power gap under their own momentum. Developments in track-to-train communications and smart on-train systems means solutions of this sort are now technically feasible.

A similar approach – using an electrically “dead” section of track – could also make it possible for dual-voltage trains to switch between AC and DC power systems without having to stop. The need to optimise such switchovers is becoming increasingly important as the number of interfaces between AC and DC lines rises.

Developments in battery storage and back-up diesel power could also make a difference, allowing suitably-equipped AC electric trains to operate off the wire. This could remove the need for the electrification of freight sidings and short sections of track, as well as allowing trains to continue their journeys, even with a power failure.

On the fixed infrastructure side, greater standardisation of parts and processes could help to reduce the whole-life costs of future electrification projects, with quicker delivery and easier maintenance.

“Commonality is vital,” says Ducksbury. “For a national electrification programme, you need designs and components that can be widely used, rather than bespoke solutions. Electrification must be safe, affordable and easy to construct – and these are all areas where Atkins offers proven leadership.”

UK & Europe,

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UK & Europe,

Rail is undergoing a global renaissance. China’s high-speed network reached the 10,000km mark at the end of 2013, while in the UK, more than £42bn has been earmarked for the creation of HS2, the high speed line designed to bridge the north-south divide with trains travelling at up to 400kmh.

Demand for rail is growing everywhere and it is being driven by urbanisation. Meeting this demand requires evolutionary change: existing assets will require adaptation, while new infrastructure must be designed with the ability to handle challenges that cannot be predicted easily.

Delivering this change means prioritising the efficient use of both materials and energy while continuing to meet the highest standards of quality and safety. A holistic approach to problem-solving, modelling and dealing with interdependencies between risks is also needed.

All of this requires a new kind of design, engineering and delivery. Four areas will require particular focus. First is the need to address the scale of the urbanisation challenge. Second is building the economic case for rail. Third is dealing with challenges such as skills shortages and infrastructure limitations. And fourth is the need for greater collaboration.


The global population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. By then, 75 per cent of people will live in cities.

Population increases and urbanisation are acute challenges being faced everywhere, but especially in developing economies. It is not surprising that countries in the Asia Pacific region and Africa are responding with investment in rail networks as a key coping strategy.

The key to attracting investment is to get the business case right. Denmark’s rail modernisation programme – which includes the world’s first nationwide re-signalling scheme – is a good example of how a compelling business case to deliver national infrastructure upgrades can be made.

The economic case

Global demand for high speed rail is expected to grow rapidly over the next 15 years. One of engineering’s roles will be to provide solutions which deliver confidence to our clients that their investments will be realised.

Connected cities can quickly evolve into city regions, even mega regions. This delivers both short and medium-term economic benefits.

In the UK, the development of high speed rail has been described by government as the “most significant transportation infrastructure project since the building of the motorways… laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable economic growth”.

The arrival of HS2 will extend the reach of Birmingham – the UK’s second biggest city – as a city region, with enhanced links north to Leeds and Manchester, and south to London.

In France, high speed rail has linked the nation’s leading cities and delivered connectivity with northern Europe, the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany.

Denmark’s Fehmarnbelt fixed link will connect eastern Denmark with the rest of Europe via a 19km immersed tunnel and promises to deliver growth for the region. Atkins is delivering the execution and implementation of railway safety services throughout all project phases until the commissioning of the railway.

In South Africa, the Gautrain project will help to grow the economy of the Gauteng province by an estimated eight per cent by the end of 2014. Some 40,000 local jobs will be created by new developments on top of 63,000 jobs created by the project itself.

The challenges

Urbanisation and the expansion of rail present great opportunities – but making the most of these will depend upon attracting the best engineers against a backdrop of a global shortage of skilled workers.

Two things work against the industry here. First, banks and other institutions are able to offer higher salaries and attract engineers away from the sector. Second, a demographic shift means many of the baby-boomer generation have retired from the industry in recent years.

The ambition to reduce costs while dealing with the economic realities of supply and demand also presents a significant challenge. The industry must continue to collaborate and develop cutting-edge technology to ensure cost reductions can be realised.

In the case of high speed rail, there is a need to ensure that the technical challenges associated with safety at high and ultra-high speeds are fully understood.

Trains already run at very high speeds; the issue is whether current track technology is able to support this in the long term. In some cases, trains are run below target speed because of the impact on track infrastructure.

Significant research is required to develop design guidelines on which track type is best suited for a particular application and speed. Advances in track technology could also reduce noise and vibration associated with high speed rail.

By analysing high-speed running on test rigs, for example, it is possible to measure and mitigate noise and vibration impacts. The ability to do this could be of huge benefit in winning support for new high speed rail projects.

It is clear that a holistic approach is required for high speed railway design that encompasses trains’ suspension systems, track form, ground conditions, drainage and operational maintenance regimes, so that track technology can address the challenges that the industry will face in future.

Need for collaboration

Collaboration will play a vital part in meeting the complexity of the challenges outlined above. Partnerships, both in academia and business, will help to drive innovation.

An example is the memorandum of understanding Atkins signed with Heriot-Watt University in the UK to establish a Centre of Excellence for High Speed Rail. This collaboration now extends to the Middle East and Malaysia through the university’s own international programme.

In Denmark, Atkins supports the rail education programme at the Danish Technical University through the Danish Rail Sector Association (BaneBranchen).

In Sweden, Atkins works closely with several rail-related schools ranging from the technical institutes of Stockholm and Lund, through smaller regional centres of higher education through to the National Rail School. This makes it possible to influence how rail education is developed and to gain insight into where to find the best talent

The aim of these collaborations is to create a platform that develops and shares a best-of-class academic approach and practical innovations to push boundaries and develop real solutions that will work worldwide.

Where next?

The scale of the challenges facing the industry cannot be underestimated. In responding to these challenges, the industry must look beyond the traditional boundaries of engineering.

Communication is fundamental. The industry must ensure it is sitting next to the politicians, the economists and the scientists, informing robust decision making and helping to put everything in context.

Explaining and solving the technical challenges will help deliver transformational railways that people will want to use. It will also address issues such as how to reduce the carbon footprint of the railway or decreasing the land-take needed for new and existing lines. Both could drastically improve the business case for developing a modern railway.

Collaboration is vital. The cities and routes served by modern railways are complex, so a broad spread of expertise is needed to deliver smart design. The key is to have common goals and create central coordination methods.

Improving connectivity is vital to the future-proofing of society and managing urbanisation. The industry has it within its power to deliver this transformation.

This feature is based on a speech given by Atkins’ chief executive officer Professor Dr Uwe Krueger at the 2014 Danish Rail Conference (14 May 2014).

UK & Europe,

More than 100 years after the first proposal was drawn up to connect the UK to continental Europe via rail, work began on an extraordinary project that would inspire engineers for generations to come. At the time, the Channel Tunnel, which links Folkestone in the south-east of England with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais in northern France, was the most expensive construction project ever conceived. And opinion on it was divided.

“Not everyone was in favour of it,” says Martin Grant, CEO of Atkins’ Energy business, who worked on the Channel Tunnel as a young engineer. “There were people who didn’t want to create a permanent connection between England and France. They believed it threatened Great Britain’s status and security as an island nation. But it was an amazing project and there’s still something special about this iconic link between two great nations.”

The details of the design

Atkins was appointed “Maître d’Oeuvre” (independent engineering project managers) in 1980, in a joint venture with French engineering consultancy SETEC, providing supervision and project management for the design and construction of all aspects of the work. Despite the scale and obvious complexity, it took just eight years to construct (helped by the fact that there were 14,000 people involved in the design, build and financing).

According to Michael Muller, one of the directors of Atkins-SETEC and Atkins’ former managing director: “The Channel Tunnel project was perhaps the most ambitious engineering project of its time, not only in the rail sector, but from the perspective of all engineering disciplines. In working on the project, Atkins-SETEC helped both the UK and France achieve what had only been dreamt of by engineers of the past.”

The tunnel stands out as being an engineering triumph, even 20 years on. What challenges had to be overcome and how have the solutions stood the test of time?

The Channel Tunnel runs for 50km between England and France, with terminals in Folkestone and Coquelles respectively. (Image © Eurotunnel)The Channel Tunnel runs for 50km between England and France, with terminals in Folkestone and Coquelles respectively. (Image © Eurotunnel)

The tunnel is just over 50km in length, of which 37.9km is under water, making it the longest section of undersea tunnel in the world. At the time of its construction, the public believed flooding was the primary concern, but Grant points out that, for the teams working on the project, the main risk came from fire: “There was never any doubt that we could find an acceptable level of safety in terms of the fire risk but the systems for detecting and extinguishing fire, and for evacuating people, all had to be very carefully designed,” he says. “The tunnel safety system we put together was probably more ambitious in its scale and complexity than anything else that had been done before.”

This safety system is inherent in the design: the route under the English Channel consists of three tunnels – two single direction tunnels and a central service shaft. Cross passages connect the north and south tunnels to the central service area every 375 metres. This provides maintenance teams and emergency services with access to the main routes as well as giving travellers a safe area should they need to be evacuated due to an incident.

While it may not have been the main worry, flooding was still a concern: on average, the tunnel sits at a depth of 40m and, at the lowest point, it’s 75m below the surface. This created a number of challenges.

“We thought the more difficult geology was on the French side,” says Atkins’ Guy Lance, who was the project design manager for the UK tunnels. “But when we started work and moved just off the coast of England, we found that the sea bed was quite fractured and, as a result, there was a lot of water. That caused problems with the tunnel boring machine.”

New, waterproof tunnel boring machines able to support 10 bars of pressure from water infiltrations had to be designed (previously the maximum was three to four bars).

The strength and durability of the tunnel structures would be put to the test throughout its creation but, in one of many major successes, the tunnel is the only undersea tunnel in the world that is able to support, on its own, the sea bed and the weight of the sea above.

Extending the benefits

There were a number of major milestones during the construction of the Channel Tunnel but for many, this historic project is best represented by an image of French and English workmen shaking hands as the tunnelling teams broke through to meet, 22.3 km from the UK and 15.6km from France.

Martin Grant doesn’t underestimate the importance of this moment, but adds that it was a breakthrough on only one aspect of the project: “It was clearly a necessary and important milestone for those who built the tunnels but, for some people, the work had only just started at that point. The whole railway infrastructure was yet to be added, as well as the power systems and the safety systems. There was a lot more to be done.”

The Channel Tunnel provides passage to Eurotunnel Shuttles carrying cars and coaches or trucks, and also to passenger high speed trains and rail freight trains. (Image © Eurotunnel)
The Channel Tunnel provides passage to Eurotunnel Shuttles carrying cars and coaches or trucks, and also to passenger high speed trains and rail freight trains. (Image © Eurotunnel)

Lessons learned

The Channel Tunnel is connected to the high-speed railway network and motorways of the UK and continental Europe. In the 20 years it has been open, more than 325 million passengers have travelled through it. Services have expanded and now cars, lorries, caravans, motorcycles and pets can all be accommodated. It has become a vital link for leisure travel, business and trade across Europe, and has boosted economic development around the terminals through the creation of jobs and tourism.

It also continues to inspire engineers from around the world. In September 2013, Atkins and SETEC were recognised for their work on the project. The International Federation of Consulting Engineers Centenary Awards celebrated the best consulting engineering achievements of the last 100 years, which were decided by an international judging panel of industry experts. The Channel Tunnel won the Major Civil Engineering Project award.

And for those who played a part on the project, the lessons they learned continue to influence their work, on everything from new nuclear power stations to offshore oil rigs.

“The experience of seeing how a large, complex, ambitious project came together was a terrific learning experience, one that I was able to take into the rest of my career,” says Grant. “I have used the knowledge and understanding of collaborative working to good effect. And the Anglo-French theme has continued throughout my career as well, so the experience of seeing these two nations work together has been really useful for me. It’s wonderful to travel through the tunnel now and I am very proud to have played a small part in building it.”

“When the tunnels were commissioned I felt a mixture of relief and pride,” remembers Lance. “I was proud to be involved with such a major project and relieved that it had finally been completed and was up and running. I am still proud to have been a part of it. It’s one of the greatest tunnels ever built.”

UK & Europe,

I recently read an interesting article “Sun + composites = long-duration solar-powered flight” in Composites World (

The article looks at two aircraft that aim to be entirely powered by solar energy. Because weight is super critical on these aircraft, significant use is made of composite materials for both designs. Indeed the article makes the point rather strongly in saying “Both planes likely could not function as planned without the use of carbon fiber composites.”

I rather like the closing paragraph indicating closeness in broad concept to the Wright brothers’ Kitty Hawk aircraft. Way back at beginning of the last century, the first aircraft needed to be made from strong lightweight materials and construction methods that were well understood. They chose wood and fabric glued together, which was a logical choice. In effect this was a “composite” design.

The development of aircraft changed in the 1915 with the Junkers J1 which changed the fundamental design approach to more monocoque stressed skin thinking, as opposed to a wooden frame alone being the primary load carrying structure. But it was not really until the mid 1930’s that advances in metal technology together with improved understanding methods drove aircraft design into all metallic construction for the majority of aircraft. This approach remained mainstream for many decades to come.

Of course, composite materials have advanced significantly over the past decade, especially with respect to resin formulations and manufacturing processes. These have enabled a shift away from all metallic construction for aircraft to Boeing’s 787 and Airbus’ A350 as well as these ultra-lightweight solar powered craft. It is interesting that unlike these two airliners, the Solar Impulse 2 takes a broadly similar construction approach to the Kitty Hawk, using carbon fibre rather than wood for the frame work, as the article notes “what comes around, goes around”.

For me this just goes to show how composite materials are not simply seen as an alternative solution for one material, nor indeed, one type of construction concept; they really do offer a wide range of benefits for designers.

UK & Europe,

To start this blog I’d like to take a quote from Jeff Sloan, Editor-in-Chief of High Performance Composites in his March 2014 editorial:-

“These material, software and process possibilities, and others like them, hold much promise, but will demand much courage from their advocates. Who among us will persist in pursuit of them despite uncertainty and, in some quarters, great skepticism? Will we (or our kids) someday look back on those who make history in aerocomposites and, in hindsight, take quite for granted these now quite unlikely outcomes? My educated guess is yes.”

His final comment relates to recent advances in Thermoplastics for use in aerospace. I would like to add that the sentiment is just as valid on a much wider scale, as composite materials offer significant opportunities in many sectors including rail and bridges where their potential is being questioned. It needs to be understood that many industries are highly “risk adverse”, critics may say “slow”. But, to be fair, they have solutions that work, so why risk what is seen as high investment and high risk for difficult to quantify gains some-time in the future? I’ve heard that thinking often and when put simply has a degree of logic. The trick then, is to understand the problems, and assess those where composites can indeed provide answers. Obvious ones include stiffness and strength to weight ratios, less obvious ones could be low thermal expansion, low fatigue, mould-ability. What needs to be done is for composite experts to engage with various industries, understand the issues and assess potential improvements.

Let’s work together to find better solutions, where we can, so we can indeed make history that we and our kids can be proud of.

UK & Europe,

Rapid urbanisation, population growth, the rise in car ownership and the corresponding rise in congestion – these factors have compelled the Gulf states to invest in new public transport infrastructure to address these increasingly pressing concerns. But can these new transport systems rival the world’s best?

Under the circumstances, they’ll have to, according to Dr Ghassan Ziadat, Atkins’ director of planning and infrastructure: “There are only so many roads you can build,” he says. The existing roads are already over capacity, to the point where congestion is having an impact on the local economy and on the quality of life for residents, as well as contributing to carbon emissions that impact the local and global environment.

Even in countries like Singapore, where the public transport network is world-renowned and where owning and travelling by car is expensive, car ownership is still rising at four per cent a year. If governments stand any chance of tempting people off the roads when car travel is cheap – as is the case in much of the Gulf region – they need more sustainable, clean, affordable, accessible, well planned and integrated public transport services.

Despite the challenge, Dr Ziadat believes that the dominance of automotive travel in inner-city locations around the Gulf could be reduced significantly within a surprisingly short period. He refers to Hong Kong as the ultimate benchmark for the use of public transportation: it accounts for more than 90 per cent of all journeys. The Gulf states might never reach that degree of public transport participation, he says, but there are clear indications that people are looking for alternatives. For example, after the introduction of its new metro system in 2009 and 2010, Dubai is already investing in more trams and buses as it strives for a more integrated transport system. The government wants 40 per cent of journeys to be made by public transport by 2030. This is double its target for 2020 and up from only six per cent in 2006.

“Riyadh is putting in seven metro lines at the same time,” says Dr Ziadat. “Everyone is trying very hard to catch up.”

Saudi’s strategy

This is particularly evident in Saudi Arabia, where the government is working with a transport infrastructure budget of $17.3 billion in 2014. The total value of the road, port and airport projects expected to be completed between 2013 and 2017 stands at $25.5 billion.

Its rail ambitions are even more substantial. A multi-billion dollar metro project is planned for Jeddah, as well as for the capital Riyadh. A four-line metro system is already planned for Makkah. And, in one of the world’s largest railway construction projects, the government is developing the North-South Railway, which will link the Landbridge project running east-west with a new high-speed line connecting Makkah to Medina.

The kingdom needs to invest heavily to keep its people moving. According to the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, 88 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2025, up from 48 per cent in the 1970s. And Riyadh is already one of the world’s fastest growing cities – its population is expected to reach 8.2 million by 2030, up from just over five million now (and compared with 150,000 in the 1960s).

There is also pressure from the local population to invest in public transport. It would provide an alternative means of travel for women, who are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. And, as Dr Ziadat adds: “Every year, millions of Saudis travel to Dubai and other parts of the world. They see the benefits of public transportation and they are beginning to ask why they can’t have the same to relieve some of the congestion in their cities.”

Connecting Riyadh

Dr Ziadat says the effects of public transport investment in cities such as Riyadh could have even greater impact than that witnessed in Dubai, in part because the numbers of people involved are larger (Dubai’s population is closer to two million). Planners also have the opportunity to learn from developments elsewhere and integrate the different modes of public transportation with urban design from the start.

By building seven metro lines in Riyadh simultaneously, as well as investing in enhanced bus and taxi services, they are helping to minimise how far people have to walk from their home or workplace to the station in the heat. They are also focusing on issues of accessibility.

There is also the bigger picture of how metro projects can influence development in the areas they run through, not least due to the boost to land values. Atkins designed two of the Dubai Metro stations to allow for future high-rise development above them, and similar discussions are being held in other parts of the region as a way to help finance these developments.

“The level of understanding and the appetite for transit-oriented development among clients in the Middle East is already on an exponential trajectory,” says Dr Ziadat, who adds that maintaining the necessary capital investment for the developments remains one of the biggest challenges of these large-scale projects – even for cash-rich Gulf economies.

Saudi Arabia is definitely thinking along these lines, he says: “We’re trying to integrate transport planning within urban planning. If you can integrate a development around a station from day one, and developers see that this is the plan, then they target those areas. Having that incentive will generate investment and encourage people to build.”

Incentives to change

Dr Ziadat highlights four main benefits to transit-orientated design. Easier travel can obviously offer both social and environmental benefits. It can provide easy access to jobs and services, as well as attracting investment. And efficient public transport can enhance a city’s image and reputation.

But getting people to use new modes of transport will remain a challenge. As happened in Dubai, the impact of these projects will be gradual.

“The adoption of a new public transport network is a journey in itself,” says Dr Ziadat. Few people in the region outside of Dubai are familiar with using public transportation, which means governments adopting metro systems will need to run public awareness campaigns. This will help to counter concerns about safety, quality and social impact, and explain to sceptics why the investment being made is a good thing.

Pricing is also an issue: “If the price it too low, people worry that it is just for those on low income,” says Dr Ziadat. “They will want to have first class wagons and economy wagons, as well as family-specific or women-only wagons.”

For new multi-modal transportation systems in the region to come close to rivalling those in Hong Kong and Singapore, the cities will need to drive changes in behaviour quickly. As a result, Dr Ziadat believes the high-level investment will be reinforced by measures designed to discourage road use.

“I suspect that, as happened in Dubai, governments will introduce parking fees and toll gates once their metro systems come online, and the cost of cars and petrol will be increased to discourage people off the roads, to try to beat the congestion. You can’t do that without giving people an alternative.”

Middle East & Africa,

According to the International Air Transport Association, more than three billion people and 50 million tons of cargo are flown across the globe in an average year. This quick and mostly efficient system has transformed the way we see the world, connecting communities, businesses and cultures.

But the industry’s success depends on significant and ongoing investment in infrastructure and services. Tough economic conditions, rising fuel costs and airline consolidations in some markets have restricted spending in recent years, while the demand for air transport continues to grow.

If more people are passing through airports that are already operating at capacity, what can be done to ease the pressure while keeping costs under control? And how can we future-proof our airports, when analysts predict further increases in air traffic of up to 5% annually over the next 20 years?

Existing routes

“Airport operators face significant challenges as they plan to meet future demand for air transport,” says Justin Jones, senior vice president and aviation business sector manager with Atkins in North America. “Finding available land to facilitate expansion is just one of them.”

For example, Jones highlights Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, where $800m is being spent on a project to extend the boundaries of the airport and create a new runway and associated taxiways. These changes are aimed at accommodating the future growth of passenger numbers as well as the arrival of larger jets.

“In this case, we’ve had to find innovative solutions to help the airport avoid capacity problems,” says Jones. “Otherwise it would miss out on the benefits that the expected growth of the industry will bring.”

The new 8,000-foot runway in Florida will be constructed on an elevated bridge and tunnel structure that extends over a fully operational railroad as well as US Highway 1. This is only the second time that a runway in the country has been elevated to take active road and rail lines into account.

Thankfully, it’s the second time for Atkins: the North American team was also involved in the construction of a 9,000 foot runway at the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which crosses ten lanes of an interstate highway. At the time it was built, it was described as the most important runway construction project in America.

New builds

Investment is also being focused in New Orleans where a new terminal is being constructed to replace the current 50-year-old building. In this case, the driving force is not extra capacity, it’s lower operating costs. The building will make the most of modern construction materials, have high efficiency operating systems and consolidate the security checkpoints so the process is more streamlined.

“By making airports more efficient to operate, costs for the airlines can be reduced,” Jones says. “That makes business sense.”

Similarly, in China, where 69 regional airports are due to be constructed by 2015, adding to the existing 193, Atkins and China Southwest Architectural Design and Research Institute recently won a contract for the conceptual planning and terminal design of the new Qingdao airport. Qingdao, in the Shandong Province of China, is an important economic centre and seaport, and gateway to Northeast Asia. Cost effectiveness and efficiency are at the heart of the airport designs.

“We can’t build airports like we did in the past,” says Philip Chiang, who is a director at Atkins in Asia Pacific. “We need to think about ways of getting the most out of the infrastructure and ask how we can make the airport function more efficiently.”

He gives the example of drawing on Atkins’ expertise in North America to model different runway scenarios in the hope of reducing queues and delays to aircraft, and looking carefully at the shape of the terminal to find ways to improve the passenger experience. But Chiang is also keen to stress that the impact of airport development extends well beyond its boundaries.

Connecting communities

“An airport is just one small piece of a puzzle,” Chiang says. “Building a new transport hub or increasing the capacity of an existing one has an affect on the people and services surrounding it. Greater connectivity can boost local tourism, generate new industries and contribute to economic development. But if we get it wrong and develop air services in isolation, it can increase traffic congestion, noise pollution and the impact on the environment. Operators need to consider the wider implications and give surrounding communities the best chance to benefit from the new development.”

The Malaysian government’s investment in Subang Skypark is a case in point. What was once the country’s main airport is being converted into “Asia Aerospace City”, with cutting-edge research and development facilities, office suites, academic campuses, a convention centre and residential areas.

In so doing, MARA, the government agency responsible for education and entrepreneurship, is hoping to attract business from aerospace engineering services around the world.

Atkins is acting as lead consultant and masterplanner on the project, and has to take into account everything from the nearby populations to volatile weather patterns and the facility’s economic viability, in order to create a truly sustainable model that goes far beyond a typical airport.

Soft landing

While some parts of the world strive to meet future demand through expansion and evolution of airport facilities, the debate surrounding the expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport highlights the difficulties involved in striking the right balance, especially where space is at a premium.

More than 70 million people arrived at, or departed from, Heathrow Airport in 2013, making it the busiest year on record. Heathrow operates just below capacity and, for many years, there have been calls to expand the airport to better manage the current and expected traffic. As yet, no decision has been made.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, believes that London’s position as a world city is being threatened by what he describes as the “aviation crisis”. The solution, he says, is not in expanding Heathrow, but in building a multi-runway hub airport in the south east of England.

The Mayor appointed Atkins to play a leading role in assessing the options for a new hub. This included a review of the key components for a successful airport, from its design and layout to noise implications and wider environmental issues, as well as proposing sustainable ways to deliver significantly more passengers and employees to and from the proposed new locations.

“This project is not just about the creation of a new hub airport, it’s about forming the foundations for London’s future development and reaffirming its position as a key international centre,” says Mike Pearson, airports director with Atkins in the UK.

“International air connectivity is critical to underpinning the UK economy, as well as driving wider regeneration.”

A number of other proposals for increasing airport capacity and connectivity in the UK have been suggested and an interim report from the country’s Airports Commission published late in 2013 assessed these options.

Those added to an initial shortlist ranged from adding a third runway at Heathrow or a second at Gatwick, to lengthening an existing runway at Heathrow to increase capacity. The Mayor’s preferred option will be assessed later this year.

As a consequence, any upgrades must be innovative in their approach, addressing capacity and cost concerns without the option of a major expansion.

For example, Atkins will be designing Heathrow’s programme of asset replacement, part of a £1.5bn effort to upgrade the airport over the next five years. This represents a strategic shift away from major civil engineering projects.

“In the UK, there’s been a significant cut in the amount of money that airports are able to charge airlines, money that would be put towards building new facilities,” says Pearson. “The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, through a complicated mechanism of pricing, has required Heathrow to significantly reduce their operational and capital expenditures.

“Asset management happens to be the largest piece of the expenditure puzzle for Heathrow. Asset management and asset replacement require a different kind of thinking about how the business is funded and where savings can be made.

“Heathrow Airport Limited is an airport operator, but it’s also an asset operator. And to operate the asset effectively and more efficiently, and therefore to be seen to be doing the right thing by the regulator and the airline community, they have to start thinking about this much more heavily, much more carefully,” he says.

Pearson points out that this can be something as mundane as assessing the number of light bulbs that are switched on across an airport’s facilities.

“You’re talking about millions of pounds being spent on utilities, energy management and energy conservation issues,” he explains. “Asset management can be as simple as reviewing how you employ technology, how you could change those technologies and bring in new and different types of equipment that lasts longer and lowers energy consumption. These choices can have significant impact on savings and efficiency, which will help them future-proof their facilities.”

While different regions and even each airport may have to overcome different obstacles to ensure they remain vital links in the future, business leaders and airport operators continue to warn of the effects of inaction if they are not up to the task.

As Heathrow CEO Colin Matthews said in a statement earlier in 2014: “The continued growth in traffic to emerging markets reflects the need to capitalise on regular, direct links to fast growing economies which bring trade and growth to the UK. We would like to welcome more new routes… but a lack of hub airport capacity means we are less well connected than we could be.”

Asia Pacific, North America, UK & Europe,

The tidal lagoon project in Swansea Bay is based on a straightforward premise: why not try to capture the potential energy of one of the largest tidal ranges in the world?

By building a breakwater wall with built-in hydro turbines, enclosing 11.5km² of tidal area off the Port of Swansea in South Wales, the project could generate 240MW of tidal power, averaging 14 hours of generation every day.

As the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay project website points out, it could mean “clean, renewable, reliable and predictable power for over 120,000 homes (enough to power 70% of Swansea Bay’s annual domestic electricity use) for 120 years”. And it would do so while creating a new site for everything from international sailing events to ecological innovations such as mariculture farms.

It would ultimately play a big part in a more sustainable energy mix, create jobs, attract tourism and contribute power to the national grid in around half the time it would take to get a nuclear power plant up and running. It has the potential to do so at a comparable cost to wind or oil and gas.

And it’s an idea that’s already been tried and tested, albeit in a different form: the Rance Tidal Power Station on the estuary of the Rance River in Brittany, France opened in 1966. It was the first tidal power facility and has been in operation ever since.

Given all of the above, why has it taken so long for such a simple idea with such seemingly unlimited potential to be implemented in the UK?

What’s taking so long?

“The main reason it hasn’t happened yet is because, for decades, essential electricity generation in the UK focused on big centralised power stations and a centralised network,” says Mark Shorrock, chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Power, the company shepherding the project through to completion. The company heads up a consortium of engineering expertise that includes Atkins, Van Oord, TenCate, Costain and KGAL.

“Smaller projects such as these were overshadowed by larger ones like the Severn Barrage,” he adds.

Privatisation of energy in the UK in the 1990s only complicated matters. A national body like the Central Electricity Generating Board, which was responsible for electricity generation in England and Wales for almost 40 years, might have turned to tidal power, but private companies tended to focus on big profit centres.

“We ended up with highly regulated, sometimes foreign, sometimes UK ownership, sweating a highly regulated market and good assets, with no real compulsion to do something new,” says Shorrock. “And when there was a compulsion to do something new, under the UK Government’s Renewables Obligation set out in 2002, onshore and offshore wind took precedence. Tidal power was pushed further down the pecking order.”

Today, the situation has changed dramatically. Growing energy demands and the very real prospect of future brownouts mean that centralised power generation is giving way to the idea of a wider variety of energy generation sources.

“Oil and gas prices are up, there’s a globally constrained gas market and the UK is a net importer now: of course we’re going to start developing projects like these because this is home-grown power,” says Shorrock. “It’s popular (86% of people surveyed in Swansea are in favour of the project), it does no harm to the environment and it’s quick. And once something like this starts, it becomes obvious that it can and should happen.”

Long term vision

It helps that, unlike most other power generation alternatives, tidal lagoon power offers genuine longevity. The consortium of companies working behind the scenes is ensuring the designs live up to their promised 120-year lifespan.

For example, Shorrock points out that Atkins has been on the front-end of the engineering and design work on the project. This includes everything from seabed investigation to determine what designs would be suitable and what subsidence could be expected, to an assessment of what designs would work in areas that are subject to earthquakes (such as the Severn Estuary).

“The key was to plan for now and tomorrow,” says Shorrock. “For example, our flume tests threw 100, 200 and 500-year storms at the breakwater models so that we could be sure they would be completely stable even if hit by bigger storms than the ones we’ve seen in recent years.”

Time is of the essence

The fact that, in 2009, the UK committed to deliver 15% of its energy demand from renewable sources works to tidal power’s advantage: renewable sources contributed 11.3% of the electricity generated in the UK in 2012 and there is a need for new options to bridge the gap. There’s an urgency to the situation now that wasn’t there just a decade ago.

And unlike nuclear, which can take up to seven years just for the construction phase alone, a tidal lagoon power generation project can be up and running in half that time.

“It’s so simple,” says Shorrock. “You build a sand-core breakwater across a dam in the sea, with turbine housing inside, using the simplest form of concrete poured in situ or precast on the dockside and brought in. All of which means, from consent to delivery on a lagoon of this size, you’re looking at maybe three-and-a-quarter years. On bigger lagoons, it’s still only four years from start on site to delivery of electricity.”

Tidal Lagoon Power has drawn up plans for five such projects around the UK for delivery by 2023. Once all five are up and running, they will provide 18% of the UK’s domestic electricity.

“The work that we’re already starting on the four new power stations planned for after Swansea could translate into a planning application two years from now, with work starting onsite in three years and power generation and delivery in seven years,” says Shorrock.

Over the finish line

As ever with large infrastructure projects, there are always obstacles to be overcome. At the moment, the biggest challenge is getting the UK Government on board, specifically when it comes to funding.

The Swansea Bay project is slightly more expensive, in subsidy levels, than offshore wind, Shorrock points out. The second proposed lagoon, however, is much cheaper than offshore wind and the third lagoon is cost competitive with a gas site power station in terms of levelised cost of energy.

“This prompts the question: why don’t you abandon Swansea and just build the cost-comparative ones?” says Shorrock. “But Swansea represents three years of work and £10m worth of hard-won investment from individual investors. You’ve got to get that first one built and then the others will follow suit.”

The project has been given an “infrastructure project” denomination, which means it’s on a fast-track process for planning permission. You can never predict what might happen with such things, but Shorrock remains optimistic.

“The planning inspectorate has accepted us for examination, based on our 5,000 page submission, and we’re in the midst of a 28-day representation period. The key thing is to get enough people to drop a note to the planning inspectorate in support of the idea. Then we go into due process for eight months while the inspector writes up a report and it goes to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for a decision.”

In the meantime, Shorrock and the others in the consortium are working on detailed designs so they’re ready by financial close around September 2014.

“It’s a six-month process to drive out the detailed design on the project, so the budget is accurate. In parallel, we’ve got to get the politicians over the line,” he says. “I think we’re nearly there. Our close circle of partners – Costain, Atkins, Van Ord, General Electric, Alstom – see that this is real and can understand the numbers. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is starting to get it, but they’re tightly resourced and operating under a limited budget. But they can’t really ignore the potential.

“Tidal lagoon power is home grown, it’s 65% UK content and can produce power at two-thirds of the price of offshore wind. Wouldn’t you like to get behind that as an industry?”

UK & Europe,

“Placemaking” strategies tend to focus on people, but there is another side to the story, especially in China where demographics and economics are proving to be a delicate balancing act.

Urbanisation is being promoted by the central government as a driver for growth, having already committed 40 trillion yuan (US$6.4 trillion) to the programme in its twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-15).

The response has been predictable – in March 2013, China’s urbanisation rate was reported to be at 53% (this is up from 39% in the past decade) and is expected to reach 65% in the next ten years.

The question facing China is: how will they finance all this development? Major national infrastructure development is centrally funded through state budgets and delivered through large state-owned companies.

“Many of the state-owned enterprises are floating on national and international stock markets and raising private capital through IPOs to supplement the traditional budgetary allocations from central government,” says John Barber, director of urban planning and consultancy with Atkins in Beijing. But local development is a different matter.

At present, a cocktail of state and local government funding, private sector investment and joint venture funding from public–private partnership municipal infrastructure companies is used to cover infrastructure development at a local government level, with private sector developers playing the key role in delivering the real estate.

“Many local governments have used innovative approaches to fundraising to overcome regulatory restrictions, such as setting up local government financial vehicles (LGFV). The growth of LGFVs has raised concerns about the financial sustainability of local governments and questions about the appropriateness of the distribution of national tax revenue between central and local governments.”

“Emerging policy from the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in November 2013 is targeting a more equitable share of the national tax revenue being provided to local governments,” he continues. “Streamlining the central-local government revenue division is anticipated to ease the pressure on local governmental financial systems.”

Barber says that the private sector’s role in developing local infrastructure will only increase in the coming years. Private real estate agencies, along with state-owned enterprises moving into property development, will be key players in delivering major urban extensions and new communities.

New money

The goal for local governments is to create people-friendly environments that are commercially viable and financially self-sustaining. It’s not simply a matter of following aesthetic principles that retain a place’s character; they must understand and accommodate the commercial imperatives underpinning China’s recent economic miracle, while also keeping the public happy.

Efforts are being made to ensure that all developments have a sound commercial foundation and any foreign planners must present a credible business plan outlining how a new scheme will yield a return. For Atkins, this means any plans must keep both commercial and sustainable ends in mind.

“Placemaking is fundamental to achieving these goals,” says Clive Horsman, director for landscape with Atkins in Shanghai, “but in China, placemaking is going through a bit of revolution.”

In addition to urbanisation, the agenda is being influenced by the government’s flagship policy called “Beautiful China”. This encourages local governments to think not only in terms of population density and economics, but also of sustainability and “liveability” factors.

“We believe that placemaking is driven by value and that creating the right landscape brings that value,” says Horsman. “We design spaces in the public realm to be functional as well and beautiful, whereas many developments in China have been done so quickly that they wound up sitting in isolation.”

“This is where we bring in our particular skills and knowledge. We try to emphasise the benefits of spaces that work commercially, but also look good and function well,” adds Rupert Gold, associate director of landscape with Atkins in Shanghai. To do so, Atkins has brought together its different areas of expertise – transport, low carbon, urban design, urban planning, strategic planning, landscape, architecture, environment, water – to create a well-rounded offering.

“This integrated approach to development has started making an impact on the market and has raised client expectations of both international and local consultants,” he adds. “This makes the market more sophisticated as it pushes new concepts and services related to urban development.”

The middle class factor

What characterises China’s urban development is not just scale – which is huge, with over 200 cities in the country – but speed. The Chinese market is growing so rapidly that innovation struggles to keep pace with the demands of developers, authorities and other stakeholders.

“Whole new cities are being created in China,” says Gold. “How do you create a genuine sense of place within that almost instant urban creation?”

Gold and his team have worked extensively on the new tier of Chinese cities to balance aesthetic and commercial considerations, while accommodating the needs of developers. This means planning for the right amount of real estate to get a return on their investment.

It also means that even greater care needs to be taken to persuade municipal authorities of the need to place a check on unfettered building of apartment buildings. That can often be as much a commercial challenge as an engineering one, as the country’s emerging middle class begins to exert its influence.

According to Bloomberg, in September 2013, new home prices rose by 20% in the southern business hubs of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, 17% in Shanghai and 16% in Beijing from a year earlier. They’re not alone: house prices climbed in 69 of the 70 cities tracked by the government.

“People are coming to the cities in droves, they’ve been saving and they want to buy a piece of a modern city,” explains Gold. “That is what is driving placemaking in China: this investment in the future of China.

“This means, if you develop a new residential development, even in a third or fourth tier city, you need to make it attractive as a place to live and work, not just as an investment opportunity,” he says. Instead of people looking for short-term profit, you need to attract communities planning for the future.

Changing tides

This isn’t just a new-build story; many major cities in China were built when its market first opened up and they’re looking a bit tired and worn these days. As a consequence, regeneration is becoming more important, particularly for the beautification of the cities, and placemaking is an important ingredient in that mix.

“The idea that you can take a tired city and regenerate it, redo the streets, reinvent the plazas, create new spaces for life – this is the kind of dialogue that Europe has been having for the past 20 years,” says Horsman. “But China is just entering that space.

“City authorities are trying to find the best possible ways to make old things new. People are living in dilapidated cities while new buildings are going up in other locations and generating interest and investment,” he adds. “At Atkins, we’re doing what we can to point them in the direction of some great precedents that demonstrate how they can also regenerate their older cities, to attract both people and investment.”

Considering that China’s urban population in 2012 was already almost 712 million, the commercial opportunities that could be derived from its growth in the next two decades is immense.

The key is to make sure that all sides of the equation balance out, from the commercial opportunities to beautiful public spaces and the transport links that tie them all together.

Asia Pacific,

The number of people living in urban areas is increasing at a pace never seen before. The world’s population is predicted to reach nine billion within the next 40 years and three-quarters of those people are expected to live in a city. What’s the attraction?

According to Atkins’ chief executive officer Professor Dr Uwe Krueger, the opportunities presented by cities are magnetic: “This is especially true now as the world’s aspiring middle class grows. Cities are best suited to meet the combined needs of wealth creation, education and culture.”

Protecting the future of urban environments is therefore vital and will require investment. As economies recover from recession, governments and private sector operators are again turning their attention to what’s needed to connect communities and improve quality of life. Ageing infrastructure in well-established centres from London to New York needs to adapt to meet the challenges of population growth, climate change and resource scarcity. In new cities, such as those being planned and built in China, there is an opportunity to embed sustainable solutions from the outset.

“Our vision is of a world built on smarter cities,” explains Professor Dr Krueger. “These smart cities will be vibrant, organic and well supported by a series of fundamental building blocks, from energy to transport.”

Smarter Cities?

In a report published in 2013, the UK government said there is no absolute definition of a smart city, instead describing it as “…a process, or series of steps by which cities become more ‘liveable’ and resilient and, hence, able to respond quicker to new challenges.” In broad terms, a smart city will have several shared characteristics: it will have a lively and supportive economy, and it will exploit technology to make connections between its individual elements in the best way possible.

The smart cities concept has been widely debated over the past 12 months but the challenge continues to be turning good intention into action. All of which begs the question: what are the key ingredients going to be for the smart cities of the future?

Clever connections: Connectivity is an important part of the smart city concept. Atkins is acting as lead advisor in Scandinavia, where a high speed rail network is providing the links necessary to create the “Scandinavian 8 Million City”, joining Copenhagen in Denmark, Gothenburg and Malmo in Sweden and Oslo in Norway, to form a new region that is at the centre of government measures to drive global competitiveness.

This relationship between sustainable infrastructure and economic development is driving discussion about, and the success of, many other rail schemes around the world. In Hong Kong, rail is the backbone of its public transport system. It’s acknowledged to be one of the world’s safest and most reliable networks.

Atkins is working with operator MTR Corporation to take improvement schemes forward, including on Hong Kong’s South Island Line. But the success of the network won’t be limited to the engineering feats involved in this densely populated and built-up environment.

“Hong Kong has adopted a highly integrated approach to railway development and there are close links between transport and urban planning,” says John Blackwood, director of transport for Atkins in Asia Pacific. “Property development in Hong Kong is closely co-ordinated with new rail construction, which creates greater opportunities to integrate services and maximise economic benefits.”

Better tech: Technology has, and will continue to play a major role in future development. Entire cities can be modelled digitally using building information modelling (BIM). This technology facilitates intelligent decision-making and introduces efficiencies by allowing companies to deliver work faster with less risk. It promotes collaboration and can be used across the entire life cycle of the project.

Technology also has a role in helping planners and designers understand the way people want to move around a city – their “desire lines”. For example, the Oxford Circus and Regent Street area in London is one of the busiest shopping districts in Europe. Until recently, it was badly congested, and Atkins was invited to design a new approach to the crossing.

To do so, the team needed to understand how people were using it and consider how they might want to use it in future. A detailed study revealed that many pedestrians were crossing where they wanted to, not where they should. This data led to the highly successful diagonal crossing design that is in place today.

A unified vision: A holistic approach to development is one of the key elements that will underpin the move towards smarter cities. In Qatar, for example, the country’s National Infrastructure Plan is delivering a $65bn programme of works by 2016. This is being handled by a Central Planning Office, which acts as an anchor for all major infrastructure schemes and creates a solid link between engineering contractors, consultants and various departments of government. The work will include roads, bridges, highways, railways and ports, and is arguably the most complex major infrastructure programme in the world right now.

Big-picture planning is also being demonstrated in China where cities are being built from scratch and often focus on sustainability. The Meixi Lake eco-city project, located to the west of Changsha City, has been designed to accommodate over 200,000 people. The masterplan for the lake development, produced by Atkins, followed a design brief that focused on the creation of an ecological city based around high population density core areas, well served by public transport hubs.

Time for action?

If cities are to continue to be places that foster innovation and drive higher standards of living an unprecedented level of imagination and cooperation between engineers, scientists, planners, policy makers and other experts from across the built and natural environment will be required. And it is widely recognised that they must respond with urgency.

Cities occupy only 2% of the earth’s land yet account for 75% of global carbon emissions and between 60% and 80% of energy use. Therefore, the earlier cities take steps to future proof themselves, the better.

A report led by Atkins in a unique partnership with the UK Department for International Development and University College London outlines over 100 policy options for future proofing cities, from integrated urban planning to diversifying the urban economy away from climate sensitive sectors, sustainable transport, management of water and waste, alternative energy and new building design. The policies can help all cities but are especially useful for those with high vulnerabilities and weak urban economies.

Atkins has already applied this thinking in Madurai in India, where it has been working with the city to understand the wider economic and social benefits of a low carbon trajectory.

It is looking to go even further by expanding the principles to other cities across the world.

As Chris Birdsong, chief executive officer at Atkins in Asia Pacific, says: “…cities are running out of time to act if they want to avoid being locked into unsuitable and unsustainable infrastructure. Holistic planning and the clever design of core services such as roads and rail, water, wastewater and power supplies have become vital.”

Achieving our ambitions

The move towards smarter, greener cities is gaining momentum but can the engineering sector meet the demand?

European industrials including Siemens and Volvo have warned that a shortage of skills could lead them to move R&D facilities to countries such as China and India – which, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering, produce 20 times and eight times more engineering graduates than the UK, respectively.

In the US, there’s some debate about whether there’s a shortage of engineering talent in the world’s leading technology nation. President Obama has said that improving STEM education is one of his priorities and will “make more of a difference in determining how well we do as a country than just about anything else that we do”.

Whatever the outcome, there are calls for a proactive approach to set the engineering sector on the right track.

“We need to help people recognise not only that engineering and manufacturing have a role to play, but that it’s a critical role in the continued development of this country,” says Allan Cook CBE, chairman of Atkins, the UK’s Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance and the UK Government’s Skills and Jobs Retention Group.

“Without engineers and the engineering discipline, our health service would be nothing, public transport would collapse and even the internet would fall apart. We rely on engineering capability and technology, and the continued development of that technology, to make everything run more efficiently. We need to get that message across.”

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Innovation in engineering has produced remarkable results, from the wheel on down, but is the way engineering is being taught right now a help or a hindrance?

This was the question set for Atkins’ Futures Christmas Debate, with the discussion touching on wide ranging issues from educational milestones to corporate bureaucracy as well as societal attitudes towards engineering. After all, education starts in the home, but what lessons are we learning, especially when it comes to the role that engineering plays in the world today?

And, ultimately, where does innovation fit into this equation?

Those in favour

On the walls of the RAE, there is a poster that features the following quote by Academy president Sir John Parker: “We must create a climate that enables research, innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish in the UK.”

For one team in the Futures debate, this was clear vindication: engineering education is not living up to the task – in fact, it has reached a “crisis situation”.

When it comes to further education, only five of the top 50 engineering courses in the UK even mention innovation in their prospectus. Students spend 37 hours a week in lectures and preparing for exams, giving them little or no time to develop independent thinking.

This memory-based, prescriptive learning structure, the team continued, contributes to courses becoming a “systemic step in the shutdown of our ability to innovate”. Designed to achieve the highest pass marks in exams, such a narrow focus stifles discovery, sucks the oxygen of innovation from students’ minds and sets a precedent where failure is not an option.

As a result, engineering graduates become risk-averse in their thinking as they move into their careers. As ICE president Geoff French said in his inaugural speech: “An engineer won’t tell you what 2 + 2 is without asking what factor of safety you would like to be built into the answer.”

When it comes to teaching innovation, the statistics send a powerful message: an OECD report on innovation culture published in 2011 put the UK at twenty-fifth out of 33 of the world’s leading nations.1

Dealing with the challenges of population growth, urbanisation and future-proofing our cities will require engineers with a broad range of skills who can work across disciplines. But as the team pointed out, 96 per cent of teachers and lecturers agree that the current school curriculum’s subject-based mould does not fit the needs of the 21st century. This project-by-project, issue-by-issue, narrow disciplinary approach in engineering education has become distinctly old-fashioned.

What does this mean for innovation? Can it be taught? For those arguing that current engineering education practices are barriers, absolutely. Innovation is about open minds and multidisciplinary practices. The idea that this can only be taught in the field is nonsense; capturing the spark of creativity and applying it to the real world can be taught – and the earlier the better.

Those against

What of those who believe engineering education in the UK is no barrier to innovation? Members of the team arguing against the resolution were clear: the purpose of education is to convey the fundamentals that will lead – eventually – to innovative thinking. As proof, the team pointed to a list of the top 50 innovations since the wheel published in The Atlantic magazine: 37 required a solid grasp of engineering fundamentals.

The UK is very good at teaching the fundamentals, so much so that the UK has three universities in the top 10 in this year’s Times Higher Education world rankings. Almost one-third of people studying engineering and technology in the UK in 2011-12 were international students, drawn by this world-class engineering education.

Innovation in engineering is something altogether different: it means turning ideas into value. It derives from an understanding of the basics coupled with real-world experience, and it requires the right environment in which to fly.

Even the Imperial College London agrees, proclaiming on its website: “We believe that comfort with the basic principles is what ultimately drives innovation, the lifeblood of engineering.” As the producer of more successful spin-out companies in the past decade than any other university, it should know. A similar stance is taken by Cambridge – the number five engineering school globally and number one in Europe – which has produced spin-out companies valued at more than £1bn.

However, the UK’s ability to create value from this research base and teaching expertise is woeful, according to the team. Universities need to concentrate on remaining world-class in research and teaching, they argued, while others fix the actual barriers to innovation, which lie in the next steps in their career path.

What are these barriers? The Nesta Everyday Innovation report 2009 cites finances, resources and time as the biggest three issues. The way engineering is taught is not a factor.

Instead, it seems that management is stifling innovation, despite hiring qualified and educated graduates. And when managers themselves are asked, 75 per cent of them cite bureaucracy as the biggest barrier to innovation.

As the team pointed out, it’s no wonder that engineering institutions such as the IMechE are imploring management to make better use of the skills already at their disposal to foster innovation. Large companies already employ graduates who thoroughly understand engineering theory, so they should help them to become more innovative in their thinking and tap into that value.

For most engineers and engineering firms, the team suggested, innovation is about finding increasingly clever ways to do tomorrow what you did today and yesterday. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary, game-changing, “light-bulb” moments: engineers need to learn that ideas to drive down costs are just as valuable an innovation as driving up functionality. And they will learn that lesson best on the job, not in the classroom.

To learn that lesson well, engineers need to have the right ecosystem around them: management support, money and a corporate culture that pays attention. How engineering is taught is the enabler of innovation, not the barrier. For the barriers, you have to look elsewhere.

As William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” The UK has an impressive university system, which delivers good-quality engineering graduates. These universities need to keep up that good work, while business itself needs to understand how to turn graduates into innovators instead of bureaucrats.

A new resolution

On both sides of the debate, there was agreement that there’s always room for improvement in education and a need to shift attitudes to engineering in this country, starting with younger students. There is no doubt that engineers will have to think and work differently if they are going to solve the many and varied challenges ahead. Education establishments and businesses need to create and encourage an environment where people can think outside of the tried and tested parameters. The UK has gone through a period of de-industrialisation; it now has to fill the gap that’s been left – using innovative engineering and technology to create innovative services and a better future for us all.

Which side are you on? Add your views to the debate in the comments below. 

UK & Europe,

In the long-established cities of the world’s mature economies, most public places evolved organically, from open plazas to well-connected train stations, growing in clusters around places of worship, transport hubs or intersections. Few were intentional; people simply gathered there or travelled through them on their way from A to B.

In some cases, their popularity worked against them: the more people who flocked to a public area, the more cluttered they became. Transport routes backed up, imperfect short-term fixes outstayed their welcome and what was once a perfectly suitable public space became an unruly mess.

At the other end of the spectrum, new-built cities in emerging economies had the opportunity to design and build bespoke public places, only to find they weren’t being used to full capacity, whether due to a lack of public interest or developers being unable to deliver on their original plans.

How do you strike the right balance when it comes to “placemaking” in urban planning? How do you satisfy that instinctive human desire to gather while taking advantage of all the benefits it can bring – from sustainability to vibrant commercial activity – without producing a city-sized white elephant?

It’s all in the approach

“The creation of a ‘place’ is about more than technical issues on a particular project, like land use zoning or individual building design,” says Mark Harrison, design director with Atkins in Beijing. “Placemaking involves multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches – that’s one of its key features.”

Peter Heath, design director of public realm for Atkins in London, echoes this sentiment: “This type of work moves beyond a single professional design discipline or isolated group of disciplines – architect, landscape architect, highways engineer, urban designer, artist – imposing a physical design solution on a site for a single client. Instead, it’s a partnership of multiple experts, working with multiple end users and their clients and other representatives to develop and implement the making or remaking of somewhere with an acknowledged, sustainable design life.”

This approach was at the heart of the Trafalgar Square masterplan, designed and written by Heath in a partnership of consultants and then implemented by an Atkins-led co-disciplinary team with client partners.

Despite being a focal point for London life, Trafalgar Square had become an unwelcoming place by the 1990s. Six lanes of vehicle traffic, pollution, poor sight lines and difficult access meant fewer people were visiting and those who did wouldn’t stay long.

Collaborating with a multidisciplinary group of experts, Heath and his team designed linked spaces that were safe, convenient and attractive: “These provided a place that could serve as a stage for a wide range of cultural activities and stimulate existing and new uses, while supporting an increased number of visitors and users,” he points out.

Since work was completed in 2003, the revitalised Trafalgar Square has regained its spot at the centre of national celebrations (free concerts and public events have returned) and enjoyed a significant uptake in both visitor numbers and satisfaction. In effect, it has become the place it was always meant to be.

Changing face of China

This approach may work wonders where collaboration is commonplace but what about cities that have traditionally been more difficult to crack? For example, while developers and designers in China have looked to the wider world to see what works and what doesn’t, the door hasn’t always been open to outside partnerships. But now, population pressures have begun to shift the situation.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development estimates that 300 million people currently living in rural areas will move into cities between 2010 and 2025.

“We’re seeing more acceptance of the multidisciplinary approaches that have proved successful around the world,” says Harrison, whose team has been increasingly engaged in such projects in Beijing and beyond in recent years. “The authorities are looking at how to apply them in ways that will work in China.”

This means that organisations taking on such projects must adapt any collaborative approaches to the different cultural and social factors that govern Chinese life when working on any placemaking projects. As Harrison points out, “what works in London or Budapest may not prove successful in Beijing”.

By way of example, he highlights the long-held Chinese tradition of holding communal activities within public spaces: “Personal space is generally perceived differently in Asia compared with Europe. In Europe and America, people tend to prefer a bit more distance. First-time visitors to China might see groups dancing in a public square in the evening or doing early morning Tai Chi together in the morning. These are all unique to the Asian – and specifically Chinese – experience and need to be accommodated in any placemaking process.”

Recent Atkins projects have reflected the specific demands of Chinese culture, history and urban tradition when it comes to placemaking. The National Advertising Industry Park project, which sits alongside the Tonghui River and began in 2012, is typical. Atkins was asked to develop a masterplan for a new advertising and creative arts zone on the edge of the central business district (CBD) in Beijing. The plan includes over 30 buildings, ranging in size from small scale creative industry studios, to a museum and conference centre as well as a series of landmark towers and office buildings.

And while it takes some inspiration from creative hubs like Soho in London and New York’s Madison Avenue, the Beijing project has a distinctly Chinese aspect. It lies on the edge of the historically significant Grand Canal, which extends all the way from Hangzhou to Beijing. The Atkins plan opens onto the canal and incorporates it within this welcoming and important public space. A public square and pedestrian zone sit at the heart of the plan, with a bridge connecting the CBD and a new museum and conference centre.

“Our aim was to create a place that is unique while giving it an urban feel and a sense that was related to its history – in this context, the setting by the canal,” explains Harrison. “What could have been a ‘campus style’ area now looks and feels like it’s part of the surrounding urban space, giving it a ‘streetscape’ feel. This was a deliberate attempt to create an urban feeling within the development while remaining sensitive to the local culture and history.”

A place in the middle

Setting a team with a mix of disciplines, expertise and cultural sensitivity is fundamental to any placemaking project, no matter where it’s happening in the world. For example, Janus Rostock, associate design director with Atkins in the Middle East, has been working with developers to create new places in a city better known for its latest skyscrapers.

“Dubai is recognised for the iconic buildings towering over the skyline, but very little placemaking activity has taken place around them,” he says. “Now, there is growing recognition that they need to tie the spaces between those buildings together.”

Much of the work has focused on converting existing rights of way for cars into public spaces, by re-zoning neighbourhoods and developing public squares that offer natural shade and ventilation – critical in a country where soaring temperatures make sitting outside problematic for half the year.

At the same time, teams working on these placemaking schemes had to keep in mind the “wellness” agenda that is currently taking root in the Middle East: “The whole region is suffering from a lack of exercise in daily life,” says Rostock. “The UAE has one of the highest rates of diabetes among young people. People eat rich food with too much sugar and it creates a downward spiral from a health point of view.”

In response, Atkins’ placemaking activity in the region has focused on incorporating walking, cycle and public transport links into the Middle East’s growing cities: “For example, we are working on a masterplan for central Jeddah and our client has mandated that every component of the plan has to be measured against how it contributes to overall wellness of the community.”

Ultimately, the best, most technically advanced solutions to the problems of urban life will only work if they address the needs of a city’s most important stakeholders: those who live there. In an ideal world, placemaking projects such as these will be able to incorporate input from diverse sources and deliver a solution that works for city dwellers, businesses, transit systems and visitors alike.

Asia Pacific,

The engineering profession has a rich heritage, one that inspires us towards creativity. From Leonardo da Vinci to Sir Christopher Wren and Sir William Atkins, we need to learn from our collective past as we try to address the greatest challenge we face today – the rapid urbanisation of the world’s cities.

This challenge unites all other issues we are facing; creating a sustainable energy mix, water and waste management, transport, public health and social balance.

More than 50 per cent of people already live in cities and that is anticipated to rise to 75 per cent by 2050 as the global population grows. We need to work out the best way to deal with this rampant urbanisation, as our cities are of vital importance. They centralise business activity through ecosystems of companies. At the same time, they are more sustainable, as city-dwellers tend to have lower carbon footprints. Cities also have the potential to be more resilient to shock events, such as severe weather systems caused by climate change.

Protecting the future of our cities is vital and will require investment. This is particularly true in the developing world where 95 per cent of city growth is expected to take place. For example, the urban populations of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to double to over 3.5 billion people in the next 20 years – accounting for roughly half the global population.

Dealing with these issues is not a case of “build it and they will come”. We need holistic thinking, imagination and co-operation between engineers, scientists, planners and behavioural experts.

The future city challenge

Our recent study, Future Proofing Cities, backs up this view. The study was developed to help cities tackle risks to their long term prosperity and growth, assessing 129 major cities across Africa and Asia. Between them, these cities house over 350 million people or five per cent of the world’s population.

The report analysed three clusters of interrelated issues: climate hazards, risks to resources and carbon emissions. The aim was to develop an integrated portfolio of measures for future proofing cities in a way that generated environmental, social and economic benefits.

The result was 100 adaptive policies that could be applied in city-specific strategies. These ranged from integrated urban planning to sustainable transport, better management of water and waste, new sources of energy and new building design.

These policies can help any city, but are especially useful for those with high vulnerabilities and weak urban economies.

Four steps to a better future

The ideas we came up with in our Future Proofing Cities study take us in the right direction but they’re not the final answer. Learning from the past has informed the world in which we operate today, but what about inspiring the future? I believe this involves four key ingredients:

  • define our vision
  • establish the right partnerships
  • use technology
  • exert our influence

Our vision is of a world built on smarter cities which, as the UK government says in its recent “Smart Cities” paper, are “more ‘liveable’ and resilient” and “able to respond quicker to new challenges”. These smart cities will be vibrant, organic and well supported by a series of fundamental building blocks, from energy to transport.

Realising our ambition will require a step-change in thinking. For example, we all grew up in world where centralised utilities provided all of our energy. Our children will live in a very different world.

They will drive electric vehicles with battery systems that also serve as distributed temporary storage facilities for energy in a truly smart grid. These cars may be powered by electrical instead of chemical batteries, so called supercaps, nanotech capacitors with super high dielectric constants that can be charged almost instantaneously.

At the same time, mainstream power will come from many sources: nuclear fusion perhaps, wind and marine turbines laying in farms off our coasts and all hooked up to an international cable network.

All of this is perfectly feasible in engineering terms. And the next generation is already combining technology with business savvy in new, creative and seamless ways.

For example, the City of Boston had an issue with fire hydrants being buried when there was a blizzard. One young entrepreneur saw a simple solution: he designed an app that located hydrants on a map, so that they could be found and uncovered as needed. The city has now set up an “Adopt-a-Hydrant” scheme with volunteers finding and digging out their nearby hydrants if they get covered in snow.

These ideas bring us one step closer to fulfilling a vision of smart cities. We can build on that, creating smarter regions and driving towards a connected and smart world. But only if we work together towards the same goal.

Finding the right partners

At Atkins, we want to help develop the next iteration of ultra-high-speed trains, not only in the UK, but in Malaysia, Singapore, India and the US. We can’t do that on our own. We need to find the right partners to make this vision a reality.

We’ve reached out to Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh to create a Centre of Excellence for High Speed Rail to push the boundaries of railway track research. The university has the time, expertise and test rigs to develop this concept, and we can help through our knowledge of the practical application.

I believe we will see more of this in the future: groups of people and companies coming together under creative umbrellas, harnessing expertise on projects as required. These people and companies will share some ideals and values but they will have different capabilities, which they will use to lift one another in pursuit of a shared vision.

Working well with new technology

Partnerships will bring together the mix of talents we need to realise our vision, but our success will rely on the tools we use and today, those tools are more often than not technological.

Take our work redesigning Oxford Circus, the busiest shopping junction in Europe. Before we could produce a design to relieve congestion in the area, we needed to understand how people were using the crossing and consider how they might want to use it in future. We carried out a detailed study which revealed that many people were simply crossing where they wanted to, not where they were supposed to. This data led us to the highly successful diagonal crossing design that is in place today.

It’s all about using the right tools for the job, from big data to analytics and beyond.

Steering the conversation

We can amass knowledge, teams and tools but it may mean nothing without influence. The engineering profession must be included in the debate, alongside politicians, economists and scientists.

It is already beginning to happen: engineers are finding themselves in a position of influence at the heart of strategic planning for future cities. Look at Qatar, where the country’s National Infrastructure Plan is delivering a $65bn programme of works by 2016. This is being handled by a Central Planning Office, which acts as an anchor for all major infrastructure schemes and creates a solid link between engineering contractors, consultants and various departments of government.

The building programme will include roads, bridges, highways, railways and ports, with more investment planned in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and beyond. This is arguably the most complex major infrastructure programme in the world right now.

Without a holistic approach – and full engagement across all levels – this would be unmanageable. We are exerting our influence and helping to deliver change. We’re developing the strategy required to realise our vision for a better future.

Shout from the rooftops

We need to learn from the past to inform the present and inspire a vision for our future. We need to build coalitions around what we’re doing, but we won’t achieve that without great communication.

It’s a skill we must embrace if we’re to exert our influence, especially with elected representatives. Otherwise there is the danger that political decisions will be short-sighted, opportunistic and suboptimal. In the process, we will fail to deliver on our vision for a smarter and more sustainable future.

Just as Sir Christopher Wren’s memorial plaque in St Paul’s Cathedral points out, “If you seek his memorial, look about you”, we need to ensure that the cityscapes that we leave behind are a legacy that we can be proud of.

The Hinton Lecture 2013

Prof Dr Uwe Krueger is the chief executive of Atkins. He has served as President of Cleantech Switzerland, a group providing sustainability advice to companies on behalf of the Swiss Federal Government. In addition, he served as Senior Advisor for TPG Capital. Until September 2009 he was CEO of Oerlikon Group, a CHF4bn Swiss industrial conglomerate. He began his career at international strategy consulting firm A.T. Kearney, followed by several senior executive positions at Hochtief AG, including CEO of Central/Eastern Europe, and Chairman of Turner International. He currently serves on the board of several high-tech companies including San Diego-based Zementis, Inc., SUSI Partners AG in Zurich and Ontex SA, Zele/Belgium. He lectures as an honorary professor of physics at the University of Frankfurt.


Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Stretching back over the past five decades, China’s coastline has been expanding inexorably, thanks to the process of reclaiming land from the sea. Reclamation has allowed developing conurbations and cities to grow beyond their original scope to accommodate their changing economic and infrastructure needs. And although China’s growth continues, the cost and environmental impact of the practice is driving a new approach.

The rationale behind the use of reclamation is simple, according to Tommy Ng, director for design, engineering services at Atkins in China – with ongoing urbanisation, cities need space to accommodate the people that move there.

“City managers also realise that coastal areas are in short supply and thus tend to have high land values. By using reclaimed land in front of the existing coastline, they can gain additional value,” he says.

In the past, regional governments across China have used reclamation as a shortcut towards urban growth. The country’s 18,000km of coastline have been the site of reclamation projects for the past 40 years. Over the past 50, China lost more than half of its coastal wetlands. And in 2009 alone, over 150km2 were reclaimed. Projects on the scale of Caofeidian, near Tangshan, which transformed isolated sandbars into a major industrial park and deep-water port, have become commonplace along the Chinese coast.

But uncontrolled reclamation brings risks. “With reclamation, the easiest method is to pull all the things around it into the sea to create the piece of land without any control,” says Ng. “Of course, that will create pollution in the sea and damage the ecology. New land may also contain materials like heavy metals and other pollutants.”

Drainage channels can be affected, local wildlife populations displaced, delicate tidal ecosystems disrupted and seabed integrity damaged.

It is factors like these that have given Atkins’ planners and engineers pause for thought.

“The question we need to ask is whether we need to reclaim the land – are there other, better alternatives?” says Ng. “If it is required, then we should focus on whether it will have an impact on the environment and the ecology, or whether the new piece of land reclaimed will be sustainable.”

A planning priority

Ng and his Atkins colleagues have been working to understand the impact of reclamation and, having done that, to design solutions, some involving reclaimed land and others using completely alternative methods of land use.

Currently, every project that features an element of reclamation must go through the following assessment:

  • A review of alternative options to reduce the environmental impacts of the project, including minimum reclamation review and evaluation of different methods of construction.
  • If reclamation is required in sensitive areas, projects now demand non-dredge methods of construction.
  • Extensive compensation of marine habitat loss by replacement and enhancement of alternative areas.

If reclamation is called for, then the key strategy for Atkins is to get involved early in the planning process, using hydrologists, environmental scientists and engineers to fully understand the tidal patterns and wind direction, as well as any sensitive areas, such as coral or species of fish, water depth and so on.

“You need to fully understand all the parameters of a project, including these sensitive issues, both before you begin the work and as it progresses. This helps to ensure that the plan is on the right track from the start and that the need for any mitigation measures can be minimised,” says Mark Harrison, director for urban planning consultancy at Atkins China.

When it comes to urban design projects featuring an element of reclamation, greater scrutiny is leading to more innovative thinking. As Wing Wong, Atkins’ associate director for environment, explains that means considering a broader range of options.

“Ultimately, you’re looking to reduce the impact in some areas and to enhance the environment in others,” she says. “For example, if you were doing reclamation in an area that has marginal marine ecology but where there may be a loss to the marine environment, enhancing other areas that have greater potential can be more beneficial to the environment overall. For each project, the objective must be to reduce impacts to a level that can be accepted.”

This has been the case in Hong Kong recently and the proposed construction of the Integrated Waste Management Facility at Shek Kwu Chau is one example. Here, cellular cofferdam and circular cell breakwater have been suggested in the construction design to minimise dredging and filling activities, and the associated environmental impact.

“The compensation measures for habitat loss for this project are substantial,” says Wong. “They include the translocation of corals in the area; measures to minimise the disturbance to finless porpoise, including reducing habitat loss and avoiding types of construction during peak seasons; and allocating marine habitat for conservation purposes through the designation of a new 700ha marine park. The latter will be enhanced through the deployment of artificial reefs, the release of fish fry and a comprehensive management programme.”

New techniques

Another ambitious example is the work undertaken on the Hong Kong Zuhai Macau Bridge – Hong Kong Link Road (HKZMB HKLR) / Hong Kong Boundary Crossing facility. These were the first projects of their kind to implement a non-dredge reclamation solution. For the 150ha artificial island, this was achieved by forming the seawalls by sinking large diameter circular steel cells through soft marine mud and filling them with inert material – geotextile and a two-metre-thick sand blanket. Vertical drains are then installed to accelerate consolidation of marine mud.

The benefits of this approach, Wong explains, will be a reduction in the amount of dredging and dumping of marine mud by about 22mm3 and reducing the amount of backfill material needed to be imported.

“This means we reduce the impact on water quality in the area and on the marine ecology, especially the Chinese white dolphins’ habitat. The project also includes an extensive monitoring programme of the Chinese white dolphins, coral translocation and intertidal surveys.”

This determination to radically reduce the environmental impact of new developments underpins much of Atkins’ work. As Ng explains, it often involves pioneering new geotechnical strategies, such as the temporary reclamation techniques used in the Central Wan Chai Bypass – Causeway Bay Shelter Section project.

“This project involves the construction of a 710m-long section of vehicle tunnel, which is a strategic (dual three-lane) trunk road along the north shore of Hong Kong Island,” Ng explains. This road section comprises tunnel box structures running beneath the existing seabed within the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter. When it’s completed, the bypass will provide an expressway for the east-west traffic between Central and North Point.

Except for the portion of tunnels immediately beneath the Cross Harbour Tunnel entrance, Ng and his team have come up with a plan that will see the proposed tunnel works constructed by a cut-and-cover method using diaphragm walls. These require the construction of a working platform above water level by means of temporary reclamation, typically 80-to-90m wide, supported by blockwork seawalls placed on the dredged seabed.

“To support the excavation of up to 30m in depth, high capacity steel props are installed in stages as excavation progresses,” Ng says. “When the tunnel structures are completed, the temporary reclamation will be removed and the seabed reinstated.”

Clear evidence, then, that reclamation can be done without ruining the surrounding environment. However, given that much of the reclamation efforts have been focused on developing land for infrastructure (water treatment or sewage plants, for instance) then it follows that finding alternative ways of housing these facilities becomes a top priority.

Finding a new home

“A current government study is looking at either rock cavern or reclamation outside Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong,” explains Wong. “That involves trying to relocate some of the ageing infrastructure, which can take up large amounts of land. It might mean putting those underground and freeing up land area for further urban development.”

Atkins engineers have been working with municipalities to develop the use of cavern and tunnel technology to house a range of facilities that traditionally take up swathes of city land. Hong Kong University was one of the first such projects when, to extend its campus, authorities decided to dig out caverns in order to house two saltwater reservoirs. The scheme won awards and has proved that such solutions can work.

So what does the future hold? Is reclamation dead or will the practice continue albeit in a more controlled and sustainable way? The answer to that lies in the work being done both above and below ground in cities across Asia, where a more integrated approach to urban design is leading civic authorities and planners to accept that better land use, and not more land use, is the key to designing a sustainable future for China’s cities.

With its long history – and better oversight – reclamation promises to provide innovative approaches to the vexed issue of sustainable development while making the most of that very precious commodity, real estate.

The challenge is for engineers to continue their search for ways to support this goal, managing the impact of reclamation while working on alternative, ever more sustainable approaches.

Asia Pacific,

In 2012, the average American driver spent 38 hours sitting in traffic.

“That’s 38 hours I could have spent with my wife or children or doing something else I would rather be doing,” says Pat Jones, executive director and chief executive of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA).

This sentiment reflects America’s shifting love affair with the car. The unfettered movement it affords has been a central narrative in the nation’s development, but that is changing fast.

The 10 most congested cities in the US – including Boston, New York, Seattle, Washington DC and Los Angeles (LA) – are home to almost 100 million people. In these and other major urban areas, the number of cars on the road now exceeds the transit system’s capacity, creating congestion and everything that goes along with it: cities become slower and dirtier; drivers sit frustrated in traffic jams; uncertain travel times play havoc with efficiency; fuel is wasted.

The American Society of Civil Engineering’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure puts the cost of congestion on 42 per cent of US highways at an estimated $101bn in wasted time and fuel annually.

This problem is preoccupying a generation of planners, builders and engineers in the US and around the world. Public transport can alleviate some of the worst effects, but ongoing financial constraints stand in the way of the $170bn capital investment that the Federal Highway Administration believes is needed in US roads each year to relieve the situation. As long as the US remains a nation in love with its cars, then the answer lies in adapting the existing road networks.

For cities meeting this challenge, that means toll roads and managed lanes.

Managed movement

Given that federal law prohibits the tolling of existing interstate highway lanes, many states have been facing up to increasingly congested cities with no sign of significant federal financial assistance to tackle the problem.

But the Federal Highway Administration’s ‘Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century’ Act (MAP-21), which came into effect last year, has given them greater freedom to go ahead with tolling new interstates and added lanes on existing ones, as well as tolling on existing roads when required for reconstruction and renovation purposes.

“Various states are exploring whether they can add capacity to the roads but within a managed toll lane,” says Jorge Figueredo, national tolls business sector manager at Atkins North America. “This gives them a new source of revenue to at least maintain or operate that lane or those lanes, versus having to rely on old funding sources to maintain existing infrastructure.”

Managed lanes projects are being implemented across the US, combining traffic management, tolling, transit and carpooling in a multipurpose roadway. Atkins has been involved in the majority of these projects, as this map demonstrates.
Managed lanes projects are being implemented across the US, combining traffic management, tolling, transit and carpooling in a multipurpose roadway. Atkins has been involved in the majority of these projects, as this map demonstrates.

As a result, 10 US cities have begun managing their congestion with tolled lanes in the past few years. Both Miami and LA have embraced managed lanes, while San Francisco, New York and Dallas are following close behind. No two schemes are completely alike in mode or scale, but all share the objective of reducing congestion, increasing reliability of roads and offering drivers more choice in their mode of travel.

“In some instances, roadways are taking an existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane and selling excess capacity to single-occupant vehicles or less-than-HOV vehicles,” explains IBTTA’s Jones. “Then you have examples like Interstate 495 in northern Virginia where they added two express lanes in each direction over a 14-mile route between the Springfield Interchange and the Dulles Toll Road, creating new capacity. They have been successful in attracting traffic, which, along with revenues, has grown significantly since they opened in November 2012. I think this is a model we’ll see increasingly often in urban areas that have the space to add lanes.”

From Atlanta to Miami

For Christopher Tomlinson, executive director at the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), the congestion afflicting the state’s biggest city became urgent six years ago.

“We have been facing up to the high level of urban congestion in the metro Atlanta area,” he explains. “Simply put, we couldn’t build our way out of our congestion problem – we don’t have the real estate or the finances to fully expand our highway system within the metro area.”

Given those restrictions, the Georgia Department of Transportation set up a managed lanes system in conjunction with SRTA, with Atkins as its general engineering consultant. By taking a comprehensive look at the entire Atlanta area, they wanted to determine where planners could add a small amount of extra capacity – one or two lanes at most – and then manage the lanes through tolls.

“The theory is that, if we introduce general purpose lanes, eventually they would fill up, because we’re still a growing area,” Tomlinson says. “We have to deliver additional capacity but manage the congestion to give people a choice of lanes that will give them a reliable travel time and allow them to get to their destination, but at a price.”

The Atlanta network uses a transponder system that tracks cars using the price-managed lanes, charging users a floating fee. “Everyone has to register a pre-paid toll account, but the pricing for all these projects is set to fluctuate up and down depending on the usage levels and level of traffic congestion,” says Tomlinson.

So far, so good: the dynamic pricing model has been implemented and Tomlinson reports that demand continues to grow – “We’re still sending out 1,300 new Peach Pass transponders every week without any extra marketing or promotion.”

Use of the express lanes has exceeded expectations. In the first month of operation (October 2011), the lanes saw an average of 7,000 trips per day on the 16-mile long facility. As of summer 2013, the lanes are averaging 19,000 trips per day.

Rory Santana, District Six Intelligent Transportation Systems manager at the Florida Department of Transportation’s Sunguide Transportation Management Center in Miami reports similar success with Florida’s managed lanes project.

“We seem to be ahead of the curve on revenues and volumes – as of May 2013, we have had 75 million vehicles come through.”

Central to Florida’s success has been the simple fact that managed lanes have been presented as adding to existing capacity, and not restricting driver choice. “There were four free lanes and they remain, along with two express lanes. Drivers haven’t lost anything,” explains Santana, “and that’s made it an easier sell. We ensure users realise that paying tolls to use the express lanes is a choice, alongside using the general purpose lanes, car pooling or leaving their car at home and riding the bus.”

Getting there is half the fun

Central to the Peach Pass’s success has been its ease of use. Drivers are clearly embracing the design of the lane, how it fits into the existing road network and the payment system. This isn’t surprising, says IBTTA’s Jones, who explains these schemes are a long way from the traditional “cash at the booth” model that discouraged many drivers from using toll roads in the past.

“First we moved from hard fixed booths and barriers to electronic. You still had barriers but at least you didn’t have to fish for coins or dollars,” he explains. “Gates and barriers were then removed so that people could drive through, but this was still limited – maybe 15 miles per hour. Then open-road tolling eliminated the barriers entirely on the main line, though you might have a ramp off to one side where people can still pay in cash. The last phase is all-electronic tolling where you completely remove cash collection from the roadway entirely.”

In Georgia, the last toll facility that accepts cash will cease operation in November 2013.

And as SRTA works on the Northwest Corridor, Georgia’s first public-private partnership (P3) project, Atkins has also been engaged in developing signage solutions for managed lanes, to help motorists make the decision on whether they want to travel to Atlanta on the separate toll lanes or the general purpose lanes. “In order for motorists to make an informed decision, the strategic location of toll rate information is critical. Atkins’ forward thinking on the placement of signage has gone beyond basic engineering into the behavioural realm,” says Tomlinson. “That’s about understanding where people make decisions: where do they need to be told about how the systems work? From working with Atkins, it’s clear that a lot of this is an art, not a science. Atkins helped us look at it from a customer-centric view in making these decisions.”

Paying the toll

As with all major infrastructure projects, there is one critical factor that cities must address: cost. In Georgia, the lanes are in competition with the non-toll or general purpose lanes, which makes it difficult to bond finance 100 per cent of the construction cost, because potential users have an option that doesn’t require a toll.

There are ways in which planners can design cost-neutral projects, with toll income carrying the operating and maintenance cost of the project. One of Georgia’s next projects, for example, is going to cost nearly $1bn, of which approximately $536m is coming from the state’s transportation budget, the traditional funding source. The rest comes from loans and other financing, to be paid back with toll revenue.

“We’re getting a $1bn asset and we’re only paying half that cost thanks to the toll revenue supporting the repayments,” Tomlinson explains.

If the cost barriers can be surmounted, driver acceptance levels are sky high and technology exists to make the use of toll roads a seamless and stress-free experience, where are the limits for managed lanes?

“Whether you have a 600-mile managed lane network in the Bay Area of San Francisco or a handful of miles of managed lanes in the Washington DC area, I think each region is going to decide its own fate,” says Jones. “Clearly we are seeing a movement towards charging people based on their road usage as opposed to charging a per-gallon fee.”

Figueredo agrees that managed lanes will continue to grow and believes Atkins is ideally placed to build on its work across the US to tackle the next two major challenges in the growth of tolling: connectivity and interoperability.

“The most exciting project on the boards now is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) express lane network in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they’ll need to include over 90 miles of express lanes – by far the biggest express lane system in the US – and that’s going to connect a lot of different roadways.

“The other obstacle is interoperability, which would allow somebody with a transponder driving from New York to California to access managed lanes in both states accordingly. Right now you can’t, but we’re working on it.”

North America,

The UK’s engineering industry is predominantly male. According to Engineering UK, just 8.7 per cent of professional engineers are women – the lowest proportion in Europe. Addressing this gender imbalance has become crucial to the industry but with just one in seven women studying engineering courses at university, tapping into this stream of potential talent is a significant challenge.

Atkins – named as one of The Times Top 50 Employers for Women in 2013 – has been proactively pursuing this agenda. It’s been working with industry partners to conduct in-depth research to determine what inspires women to choose an engineering career. The resulting survey of 300 female engineers – called Britain’s got talented female engineers – found that the profession offers very high levels of job satisfaction: 98 per cent said that engineering was a rewarding career, while 84 per cent said they were happy or extremely happy in their work.

When respondents were asked what makes it enjoyable or rewarding, many said it was the problem solving aspects of their role. In fact, three-quarters of the women surveyed said that an interest in problem solving had been a major motivation for choosing an engineering career.

“We set out to learn more about women in our industry, how they feel about their own career paths and what they think we can do to encourage more young women to follow in their footsteps,” says Atkins’ UK HR director, Sue Cooper. “The results are both interesting and inspiring. We can now use these positive messages and stories to help encourage future generations.”

The variety of roles covered by the blanket term ‘engineer’ was in evidence, with women who responded to the survey working in sectors ranging from energy, construction, aerospace and rail to manufacturing, medical devices, marine engineering and defence. In terms of accessing this diverse range of opportunities, 69 per cent said that being female had made no difference to them when they were applying for jobs.

And there was also positive news on the ability of female engineers to balance work and personal responsibilities: flexible working arrangements and policies were enjoyed by 75 per cent, while 79 per cent said they benefited from a supportive working environment and co-workers.

Despite the benefits, the survey showed more work needs to be done to promote them to young women. A lack of awareness of what engineers actually do was cited by 87 per cent of respondents as being a reason why more women didn’t choose engineering as a career, while 77 per cent said there was a lack of knowledge about the diversity of the profession and 75 per cent thought that engineering was perceived as more of a male career. Interestingly, 30 per cent of respondents had fathers who were engineers, while few female engineering role models were mentioned (though many mentioned inspiring women from outside the profession).

Raising the profile

One thing was clear from the research: engineering has an image problem among young women, who are heavily influenced by popular culture to choose other paths. Better careers information in schools (70 per cent) and work experience placements alongside female engineers (64 per cent) were seen as the two best ways to encourage young women to consider an engineering career.

At car maker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), rapid growth over the past few years has led to increasing demand for skills. In partnership with Birmingham Metropolitan College in the UK, the auto manufacturer recently ran a course – Inspiring Tomorrow’s Engineers: Young Women in the Know – for 28 female students aged between 16 and 18 at its West Midlands manufacturing sites. The students met female apprentices, graduates, engineers and managers, and spent a day on work experience at the plant. They found out about apprentice and graduate schemes and took part in workshops on job applications, assessment centres and interview techniques. JLR also runs sponsorship schemes for female undergraduate students.

“Decisions on what to study at GCSE level are vital in shaping young people’s future educational and career paths. Such interventions, alongside better careers advice at an early stage, are vital if the pipeline of STEM-qualified young women is to be improved,” says Cooper .

A better place to work

Engineering firms are also analysing how they can create a better working environment for women. Offering more flexible working arrangements is key – and that doesn’t mean a prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach that involves a traditional working week with every other Friday off. Nor does it necessarily involve women working part-time. The survey found that 81 per cent of respondents worked full-time but flexibly, whether working from home or different hours.

A degree of flexibility is required on both sides to balance working commitments and personal responsibilities such as childcare. In an increasingly globalised world, this can be a positive advantage for employers: an employee who leaves work early to pick up their children and then does more work after the kids are in bed could be ideally placed to collaborate on projects with colleagues elsewhere in the world.

Providing more flexible working patterns is likely to help more women to return to work after having a child, improving retention and generating a larger talent pool from which to select the managers of the future. The Daphne Jackson Trust, an independent charity, is an excellent example of how this can work in practice. It provides flexible, part-time paid fellowships in UK universities and research establishments to help both female and male professionals in STEM fields to return to their careers after a break of two years or more.

Planning for the future

Tapping into new engineering talent will remain a priority for the engineering industry in the years ahead as it strives to ensure that it has the skills it needs to meet future challenges. To progress towards the goal of a more balanced workforce, the companies involved in this recent survey have committed to using the findings to promote engineering as a diverse and rewarding career for women; developing role models who can share their experience; and exploring ways of proactively reaching students and teachers with useful information on the industry.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

The UK’s ten engineering-related sector skills councils believe that up to two million new recruits will be needed over the next decade, to join the 5.6 million already employed in the industry. The Royal Academy of Engineering has estimated that the minimum number of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates needed to keep the industry on an even keel is 100,000 per year between 2012 and 2020. Right now, only 90,000 STEM students graduate annually – and around a quarter of them go on to choose non-science, engineering or technology occupations.

This shortfall remains an ongoing concern, but it’s only one piece in a complex puzzle. For example, the profession is also ageing: the current median age of a chartered engineer is 57 and that is rising by 10 years for every 14 years that elapse.

Tackling this shortfall will play a key role in meeting future demand for engineering skills and the industry has begun to adopt innovative ways to do just that.

A fulfilling profession

One solution has been proposed time and again: bring more women into the fold. A new survey of female engineers – called Britain’s got talented female engineers and conducted by Atkins and partners in the engineering sector – confirms that women remain an untapped and important source for vital new talent. But Atkins and its partners know it’s not that simple.

“We are committed to addressing the gender imbalance in our own companies and across the industry as a whole,” says Atkins’ UK HR director, Sue Cooper. “We know that women who already work in engineering have rewarding and fulfilling careers but we need to find new ways to explain the benefits to young women who are trying to decide what career path to take, before we lose their valuable skills to other, more widely recognised, professions.”

The engineering industry is working hard to change outdated perceptions to compete with careers such as law, medicine, financial services and IT, which also seek to recruit highly qualified STEM graduates. These perceptions can influence the career paths being chosen: while 65 per cent of male graduates in engineering and technology secure employment in the same field, that falls to 47 per cent for women.

Initiatives to tackle this issue include the annual Big Bang UK Scientists and Engineers Fair. This brings together industry bodies and a wide range of corporate sponsors to demonstrate opportunities in STEM-related careers for young people aged between 7 and 19. At the 2013 event in London, a team of Atkins graduate engineers mocked-up an eco-friendly house to highlight how almost every activity in daily life – from accessing the internet to drinking clean water from a tap – was linked to some form of engineering, design or science. More than 65,000 visitors attended the event.

Many companies conduct their own outreach programmes in schools and colleges to promote the diverse range of careers, high salaries, job security and opportunities for travel that the profession can offer. More than 100,000 young people have taken part in defence and security company BAE Systems’ STEM road shows since 2005, for example.

In February 2013, Siemens announced the launch of its Education Portal in conjunction with the Cabinet Office, the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The interactive online resource, initially aimed at girls and boys aged from 11 to 14, will be rolled out to 5,000 schools across the UK by 2014. It contains a range of educational materials that have been designed by Siemens specialists and curriculum experts to inspire young people, support teachers and communicate the benefits of STEM careers to parents.

An international issue

Engineering skills shortages are not confined to the UK: European industrials including Siemens and Volvo recently warned that a shortage of skills could lead them to move R&D facilities to countries such as China and India – which, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering, produce 20 times and eight times more engineering graduates than the UK respectively. And an inquiry in 2012 by Australia’s senate found that the country would need at least 37,000 more engineers by 2016.

In a bid to improve the situation, professional body Engineers Australia runs an initiative called ‘Girl Talk!’, in which female members give school presentations to older pupils and highlight the exciting opportunities that exist.

In the US, there’s currently some debate in public policy circles about whether there’s a shortage of engineering talent in the world’s leading technology nation, which is partly linked to the direction of immigration reform. President Obama has said that improving STEM education is one of his priorities and will “make more of a difference in determining how well we do as a country than just about anything else that we do here”. But a recent report issued by the Economic Policy Institute argued that the US has a sufficient supply of engineering skills.

What’s clear is that women remain under-represented in the US engineering workforce. Today they make up 14 per cent of engineers, according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee – although that’s a significant improvement from the early 1980s, when it stood at 5.8 per cent. Initiatives to improve the participation of women in the industry include the National Academy of Engineering’s EngineerGirl website, which aims to promote the opportunities offered by the profession to girls in middle school and also features an annual essay competition.

Transferring skills

For people already in the profession, the time has never been better for searching out new opportunities, even in different industries. For example, plans for a new generation of nuclear reactors – coupled with decommissioning, generation, fuel processing and military programmes – is leading to rising demand for skills in the UK’s nuclear sector.

The civil nuclear industry currently employs 44,000 highly skilled people, given its safety-critical nature. But research by Cogent, the UK’s sector skills council for the nuclear industry, has found that there will be a skills gap of 14,000 people by 2025 – meaning it will need 1,000 new recruits a year (mainly apprentices and graduates). In response, the UK Government launched the employer-led National Skills Academy for Nuclear in 2008 and has sponsored a number of collaborative initiatives.

“The need for experienced personnel means that transferring skills from other sectors will become increasingly important,” says Cooper. “This helps companies such as Atkins respond to complex and time-critical infrastructure challenges, and provides unrivalled opportunities for an individual to develop their career.”

It’s an area in which Atkins has significant experience, having launched the Atkins Training Academy in 2006 in response to the emerging nuclear skills gap. To date, more than 550 engineers have followed courses on topics such as understanding nuclear safety culture; decommissioning and radioactive waste management; and new generation reactor technology. Many have been engineers from other Atkins businesses, including defence, oil and gas, rail and highways, who wanted to retrain and learn skills relevant to the nuclear industry.

The Training Academy has also been extended to other sectors and has trained about 2,500 people since its inception. One example is the oil and gas sector, which is also facing up to significant skills shortages owing to factors including a fall in capacity after large redundancy rounds in the 1980s and 1990s, an ageing workforce profile and the popularity of careers in banking, finance and IT. The Academy has successfully transferred professionals in structural engineering – in bridge engineering, for example – to oil and gas, as well as staff from other highly regulated, safety-critical disciplines.

As Cooper explains, “We are genuinely excited by the opportunities we have to shape the world around us and we need to ensure we employ the best people to meet our existing and new clients’ needs. In the years ahead we’ll be focusing on attracting and retaining talented people and showing potential engineers of the future how rewarding a career in this sector can be.”

Click here to view the full Britain’s got talented female engineers survey from Atkins.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, UK & Europe,

“At a recent cycling event, one of the presenters said something that has stayed with me: cycling is a city changer,” says Erik Kjærgaard, a civil engineer with Atkins in Denmark. “If you increase a city’s cycle traffic – by taking space back from cars, analysing cycle traffic patterns, solving key issues around cycle parking, re-thinking cycle lanes – that city will change in ways that you could not achieve any other way.

“Implemented properly, a good cycling plan can help cut down on noise and pollution as well as speeding cars and traffic tie-ups, which also means fewer accidents,” he adds. “It creates a more people-friendly city. And once you take that step, you’ll never go back.”

Planners are already starting to recognise the full range of potential benefits cycling offers. A recent British study found that the UK could save £1.6bn in healthcare costs by matching Dutch levels of cycling investment (such are the benefits of keeping people healthy). A study in Copenhagen found that society benefits by 1.22 Danish kroner per kilometre cycled, when you account for health benefits, reduced congestion and fewer road crashes. (Every kilometre by car, by contrast, has a net social cost of about 1.13 kroner.) Cities that lead the way in cycling will set the benchmark for others hoping to achieve the same results.

Cycling numbers themselves are also on the rise. In London, cyclists now make 570,000 trips a day, which is almost double the number made in 2001 and represents two per cent of total traffic (the goal is to increase this number to five per cent by 2020). In some central areas, bike journeys now account for almost a quarter of trips, a rate that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

Likewise, cities such as Barcelona, Seville, Dublin and Bordeaux: today, bikes account for close to 10 per cent overall modal share and more people are joining bike lanes all the time.


So why aren’t more cities implementing large-scale cycling programmes? According to Kjærgaard, there are too few local governments and city planners willing and able to take that step. Legacy infrastructure issues alone can put any cycling strategy on hold and few municipalities are prepared to spend the money to address them properly.

“When a cycling project goes out to tender, it’s often just that – a project, for a cycle lane here or a roundabout there. But many of the challenges involved in cycling require solutions that go beyond one-off projects,” he says. “They require creativity in how you think about cycling, where it fits into the urban landscape. To do so requires more of a dialogue between planners and municipalities.”

James Datson, cycle planning specialist with Atkins in the UK, agrees: “When it comes to cycling, each city is unique. You can’t just cut and paste infrastructure solutions that work for Denmark or the Netherlands into London’s streets, for example, without careful consideration and contextualisation of the different opportunities and constraints we face in the UK.

“At Atkins we want to drive innovation to rapidly progress improvements for cyclists on our highways, but we are very aware that we need to work hand in hand with clients to ensure delivery is effective on the ground. A key part of this is understanding, knowledge sharing and capacity building with clients.”

An uphill climb

For Andreas Rohl, bicycle programme manager for the City of Copenhagen – one of the world’s most cycle-friendly cities – connectivity is key. People will only choose cycling if it’s the most efficient mode, with a coherent network in place.

“You can’t scatter facilities around,” he says. “It’s better to concentrate on specific corridors to create connectivity. If there’s a hole in the network, people will tend to use another mode of transport.”

This becomes apparent when you compare cycling cultures in different countries. In the United States, for example, such holes can be cause by the different planning priorities in place at state and local levels. State funding tends to be more car oriented, bringing more cars into cities by building highways. At the local level, municipalities and local authorities are focusing on creating people friendly cities.

The challenge is to ensure that politicians at all levels understand the benefits of cycling both locally and state-wide, and that the demand for more cycling (and public transport) in cities is both heard and addressed.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, cycling is considered a leisure activity under the government’s transport policy, not a designated transport mode. This view is reflected in the strength of its current transport network versus the state of its cycling infrastructure.

“The transport network here is very well developed and railway is the backbone of the system,” says Jacky Yeung of Atkins in Hong Kong, where the company is conducting a study for the Transport Department examining possible improvements to existing cycling facilities. “Railway reaches most of the districts, whereas some areas are not accessible by cycle tracks and it’s quite difficult to extend them to the urban areas due to space constraints. In view of the local transport background, cycling represents only a small proportion of the population.”

By sharp contrast, Atkins’ Kjærgaard estimates that most of the main routes in large Danish cities have dedicated, connected cycling lanes. In Copenhagen, upwards of 35 per cent of all trips are made by bike – “even the busiest and most important streets feature separate cycle lanes,” he points out – and the city is aiming for a 50 per cent modal share by 2020.

Safe and secure

Getting to Dutch or Danish levels of ridership is going to take time. It’s the sort of deficit you don’t close overnight, at least not without attention to a range of factors, from investment to infrastructure and planning.

For Troels Andersen of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark in the municipality of Odense, the main difference between cycle-friendly cities and others is the level of protection on offer. For example, he argues that cyclists should have a lane separated from cars by a physical barrier.

This is particularly important if any city hopes to attract groups that traditionally are less likely to cycle, such as children and the over-60s, which is essential to any true cycling culture – “One of our main targets is to have equal numbers of cyclists. It tells you that you have done your work well,” Andersen says.

In Andersen’s home city of Odense, he points out that 80 per cent of kids feel confident enough to either cycle or walk to school, whereas in a city like London it’s not really possible for many children to cycle far, much less to and from school. This is a fundamental problem if cycling is ever going to be embedded in a city.

“The primary goal should be to make it possible for children to cycle safely to school, to the shops or wherever they need to go, with or without their parents,” adds Kjærgaard. “They are the first step towards a truly cycle-friendly culture. If they are safe on the roads, you know that everyone else will be safe as well.

Atkins' Kjærgaard proposes cycle lanes divided according to average cycling speeds: 30kmph for faster cyclists riding in the segment closest to traffic to 10kmph for less confident riders close to the pavement –
Atkins’ Kjærgaard proposes cycle lanes divided according to average cycling speeds: 30kmph for faster cyclists riding in the segment closest to traffic to 10kmph for less confident riders close to the pavement – “People closest to moving traffic could match its speed,” he explains, “while the middle lane runs at 20kmph and the lane closest to the pavement would be for less experienced cyclists, who could ride without blocking others. This is the ideal solution, with all three groups of cyclists accommodated on any road.”

“A city like London needs to decide to start the process where it can and grow from there, otherwise it will never change,” he says. “Look at the city’s existing bus lanes, which often share space with cycle lanes. This is a very dangerous combination and you can’t grow your cycle traffic based on this approach.”

Atkins is already working on cycling projects to address issues such as these, such as the Barclays Cycle Superhighways running from outer London into central London. The company has also designed and developed a suite of tools for the UK Department for Transport’s National Cycle Network Database, which allows the Transport Direct route planning service to include detailed cycling options.

The UK government is also stepping up to the challenge, announcing the “biggest ever single injection of cash for the country” to make roads safer for cyclists.

“This government wants to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle as well as encouraging far more people to take it up,” said Prime Minister David Cameron at the announcement of this major investment, “and business, local government, developers, road users and the transport sector all have a role to play in helping to achieve this.”

According to the plan, £77 million will be divided between Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Norwich, while the New Forest, Peak District, South Downs and Dartmoor will each share a slice of £17 million funding for national parks. Combined with local contributions, this represents £148 million being spent on cycling safety between 2013 and 2015.

Parking and counting

While cycle lanes are important, they’re not the whole story. Planners need to be aware of some of the larger, equally important planning issues. For example, parking becomes increasingly important as cycling becomes more popular. Cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have a problem of bikes stacked up outside rail stations and other high volume areas – “Bicycle parking is definitely one of the areas where we can do a lot better in Copenhagen,” Rohl says.

Atkins has been involved in several projects to try alleviate the problem. For example, in 2011, it developed “flex-parking” where bikes use a space for parking from 7am to 5pm, then it reverts to car parking in the evening. The only drawback is that the owner has to leave it free-standing, which could leave it vulnerable to theft.

Kjærgaard reckons there are at least 15-20 “really important locations” in Copenhagen that need two to three times more bikes spaces. He is working on a project with the city to identify up to 12 parking solutions – in locations where new parking could be implemented or wholly new parking concepts.

“Take one of Denmark’s largest railway stations, for example,” he says. “If we know we need room for 4,000, 6,000 or 8,000 bicycles but there’s only room for 1,000 right now, how do we solve the problem? “Do we build parking facilities that climb into the sky? Do we use existing buildings? Or do we hide them below ground?

“And if we rebuild the station but only allow for 2,000 bicycle parking places, how does that help? Or if we have a Metro station with only 200 places when 500 are needed? Or we have a square in the central city area that should have had 1,100 places instead of 300? None of these are preparing the city for the future.

“We need to be able to increase the capacity step by step until we have fulfilled the actual need,” he says. “The point is to plan for the next level.”

Atkins’ Yeung agrees this is an issue: “In Hong Kong, cycle parking facilities are provided mainly by the government and according to regulations, cyclists are not allowed to park over 24 hours – it’s mostly short trips, to the railway stations and major attraction points. Most people will park their bike outside designated parking spaces, often arbitrarily. It’s an institutional problem and requires long-term planning approach to tackle.”

To do so, Yeung says that supply and demand have to be carefully mapped and matched: “For example, parking spaces near residential areas and transport nodes are very popular but often at different times. The challenge is to make sure that parking spaces are well used and properly used.”

Ultimately, everyone agrees that, if cycling is to become part of the culture, it requires a ‘Cities 8-80′ strategy, explains Kjærgaard: build cities so that everybody between eight and 80 years of age can travel on their own, cycling or walking, thereby making it a city for everybody.

But changing a city takes time, investment and imagination, and the latter can be the greatest obstacle of them all.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, UK & Europe,

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon recently told the World Economic Forum in Davos that a $14 trillion (£8.8 trillion) investment in green infrastructure and industrial practices was needed by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change. This would require a multi-dimensional strategy including major capital programmes such as new energy generation and low carbon transport systems. However, as we face these complex challenges we must be careful not to miss the obvious.

The business case for improving the sustainability characteristics of the existing commercial building stock is becoming compelling.

In the UK alone this sector accounts for 40 per cent of all emissions which could lead to a refurbishment project list worth £10 billion a year. In the US there have been estimates of a market worth around $17 billion (£11 billion) a year by 2015. This is an area promising a tidal wave of spending and a massive green growth boost.

However commercial property owners are not yet convinced that improving the sustainability of their stock is a good investment so it is up to us to demonstrate the business rationale.

The UK’s Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is already preparing guidance on pricing climate change risks into rental and capital value assessments. They are reacting to a growing weight of evidence such as a study of 26,000 commercial buildings in New York which recently suggested Green rated buildings attracted eight per cent higher rents and 13 per cent higher selling prices. The reason is the market is starting to price in risks such as energy prices and flood potential, however I would argue these are not the only elements at work.

In the UK, the Energy Act 2011 opens the door from 2018 for laws that will mean any building rated below E on the Government’s energy performance scale cannot be rented or sold. This would affect 18 per cent of all commercial buildings in the UK according to the British Property Federation. There is also a growing weight of evidence around the positive impact that lower emission and well-design buildings can have on staff productivity. Taken together these motivating factors have already convinced corporate landlords such as Legal & General and the Crown Estate to develop refurbishment business cases.

We cannot forget Government either. Small steps such as making it compulsory for all UK commercial properties to display energy certificates rather than only those housing public sector bodies would help. Most of our clients tell us they see the value of this and if framed correctly it should be well received.

Germany and the US are showing leadership in this sector and as a result they are protecting capital assets and their economies from additional shocks. It also positions them well to transfer those skills to other markets. The UK can also compete because it has a strong skills base and the opportunity to build on that through the Green Deal’s extension to the commercial sector.

Ultimately, whether the motivation for improving the commercial building sector is driven by climate evolution, the demands of tenants or legislation this area has huge green growth potential. So what now?

The design and engineering sector must work harder to explain the business case as it is our role to properly articulate the risk of inaction. We can also come up with cost-effective and efficient design solutions that can cross international boundaries. This is not just about the private sector though as Green Growth requires a solid partnership with Government, with the development of legislative tipping points that move the needle from ‘pioneering’ to ‘must do’.

Prof Dr Uwe Krueger is the chief executive of Atkins. He has served as President of Cleantech Switzerland, a group providing sustainability advice to companies on behalf of the Swiss Federal Government. In addition he served as Senior Advisor for TPG Capital. Until September 2009 he was CEO of Oerlikon Group, a CHF4bn Swiss industrial conglomerate. He began his career at international strategy consulting firm A.T. Kearney, followed by several senior executive positions at Hochtief AG, including CEO of Central/Eastern Europe, and Chairman of Turner International. He lectures as an honorary professor of physics at the University of Frankfurt.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, UK & Europe,

The city is undergoing a renaissance. People who once aspired to live in the widening suburban sprawl on the edge of metropolitan areas now want to be at the heart of city life. In Europe and North America, widespread gentrification and the regeneration of industrial districts such as canals and dockyards is replacing some of the blight and decay of the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in new cityscapes that are a pleasure to live and work in.

Outside the West, exciting new city developments are appearing everywhere from Baku and Nairobi to Abu Dhabi and Seoul, either in the form of huge extensions to existing cities or completely new cities built from scratch. Often working with fewer constraints, city planners are fundamentally re-imagining what the city is all about.

Driving this surge in planning is a wide range of factors – including new national wealth, dramatic population shifts from rural to urban areas, the need to respond to demographic changes and ambitious efforts to create sustainable places with better access to technology, financial centres or culture.

Emerging economies are providing most of the biggest developments, because their needs are often most urgent and they are generally more willing to think big and do away with the old. By contrast, in the West the tendency is to preserve, renew and infill cities – partly because of a lack of space, but also because public opinion tends to be less prepared to embrace new construction.

In the developing world, there is a desire for growth and modernity – though this comes at a price, according to Dr George Martine, co-author of a 2010 study on urbanisation published by the International Institute for Environment and Development and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

“Massive urban growth in developing countries looms as some of the most critical determinants of economic, social and ecological wellbeing in the 21st century,” he says.

East Asian tigers

As in so many things, China is leading the way when it comes to big developments. Since 1978, it has added roughly 500 new cities to the landscape and it already has 160 cities of more than a million people (by comparison, Europe has 35). Over the next 20 years, the percentage of Chinese expected to live in cities will grow from roughly 50 per cent today to 70 per cent. By 2040, the urban population is forecast to expand by 400 million – about 15 million people per year.

“What’s happening in China is the rapid urbanisation that we have already seen in Japan and the tiger economies after the Second World War,” says Mark Harrison, senior technical director for Atkins’ urban planning consultancy in Beijing. “Similar processes occurred in Britain and Europe associated with the Industrial Revolution, and in America in the last century. We’re seeing a rapid urbanisation and a mass migration of people to urban areas.”

The tremendous growth in China and elsewhere in East Asia is leading to a new phenomenon: mega city regions, where cities coalesce to form uninterrupted urban stretches. Examples include: the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou region in China, which is home to 120 million people, according to a recent UN report; the Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe corridor in Japan (60 million people); and the Malaysia-Singapore area.

“Rapid development of these regions does pose many challenges including competing economic activities, co-ordination of large-scale infrastructure provision, environmental protection, social inequalities and liveability,” Harrison says.

Another big challenge in China is planning for a society that is evolving so rapidly. “In addition to mass migration and rising disposable income, China is changing from a socialist to a market-socialist system and this has a fundamental impact on urban development. Under the previous economic model, there was no need to plan for private commodity housing, the development of an extensive services sector, retail as leisure, export-processing zones and so on,” he says.

Changing times

In another 20 years, India will have caught up with China in terms of population. Whereas China’s one-child-per-family rule is resulting in an ageing workforce, India’s burgeoning population is projected to be growing at around 0.6 per cent a year. Thriving urban areas will be key, as the country will have to handle the challenge of accommodating a population growing at a faster rate than China’s within a smaller land area. New McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) projections show India’s urban population soaring to 590 million in 2030.

The country will also become a nation of upwardly mobile middle-class households. By 2025, the Indian middle classes will have expanded dramatically to 583 million people – some 41 per cent of the population. In fact, cities are being built for the emerging middle classes in many areas of the world. In Azerbaijan, for example, a 200-hectare urban centre is being developed on the outskirts of Baku, aiming to reclaim lands that were once polluted with oil pits, rail yards and other industrial facilities.

Other new purpose-built cities include Mussafah on the edge of Abu Dhabi. Mussafah is designed as a designated industrial area and is one of several projects designed to reduce the region’s dependency on oil and build the necessary foundations and infrastructure to support a sustainable society in the future. According to Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council, some $200bn will have been pumped into various infrastructure projects in the Emirate by 2013.

Cities have always been built according to their proximity to basic resources such as water, but it’s now possible to build in all kinds of places, even in previously inhospitable environments such as deserts. In a potential precursor to a futuristic world altered by climate change, it is perhaps comforting to know that purpose-built virtual cities can be situated anywhere.

“Whereas in the past cities were located in places for almost prehistoric reasons, that doesn’t need to be the case any more,” explains Matt Tribe, director at Atkins. “In dealing with climate change, sea-level rises and other natural processes, planners may now go through a process of taking people away from risk areas, by understanding the best place to locate them.”

Future-proofing cities

The advantage of new cities is that sustainability can be built into every aspect of the design.

“The new cities that are being developed in China, India and the rest of Asia are going to be able to draw on the latest thinking, where we design cities that are sustainable at every level. This means thinking fundamentally about urban form, infrastructure and buildings to produce the most sustainable solutions and to future-proof cities in terms of climate change. This is much harder to put in place once you’ve already built your city,” Harrison says. He asserts that sustainability is an increasingly important part of developments he is involved with in China – most recently, a financial district in Chengdu and a new business district in Beijing.

Harrison believes China is likely to be a good learning ground for masterplanners in the future: “I’m sure a lot of the complex urban questions that we’re now facing around the world will have some answers in China, simply because of the numbers of people involved, the scale of the development and the focus on finding new models for urban development.”

Tribe argues that “there will be more transit-oriented, very dense developments, and there will also be clustering. As well as megatropolises such as those being developed by the Chinese, I think there will be compact densities that are highly linked,” he says. “That means either physically with super-fast trains or IT with fast broadband.”

The move to denser urban environments is already evident in Europe and North America, particularly where sprawl is a concern. After the Second World War, the tendency was to build outwards, creating new suburbs and commuter towns. In recent years, however, that sort of construction has become increasingly unacceptable, according to Harrison.

“Politically, it’s quite difficult to plan any kind of new growth in the UK at the moment,” he says. “This is due in part to the recession, of course, but also because the countryside and heritage are valued. So it’s all about infilling particular city sites, and a sustainability agenda of having denser cities that use land more effectively.”

In addition, wonderful architectural assets are to be found in the older hearts of cities, often in buildings that had a previous use, according to Michael Hebbert, Professor of Town Planning in the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester.

“Urban renaissance is partly building renaissance – rediscovering old buildings,” he says.

As well as investing heavily in cities such as Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds and Cardiff, the previous UK government announced plans for up to ten eco-towns around England. It was hoped that these settlements would address the pressing need for affordable housing while being sustainable and carbon neutral. Plans included smart meters for residents to track their energy usage, plug-in points for electric cars and large spaces for parks and playgrounds. However critics doubted the eco-towns’ ability to attract the necessary infrastructure, such as transport and schools, and to meet the ambitious environmental standards. The plans have since been downgraded considerably to four eco-towns. These are now slated for 2016 and still need to make it through the planning approval process.

“The UK has a fairly robust policy on sustainability, but because we are building in much smaller volumes, it is more difficult to affect some of the fundamentals of land-use planning,” says Paul Fraser, a senior urban designer at Atkins. By comparison, Fraser was part of the team working on Mussafah in Abu Dhabi, which is of a sufficient size to support a full range of public services.

“Ideally, you have a hierarchy of public services. Within a typical five-minute walk, you would expect to find a local shop, post box and so on. A bus network would allow you to get to a health clinic and a bigger set of shops. And then regional facilities such as hospitals would be accessible with at least one mode of transport.

“It is essential that you create an effective network that allows you to access as many of these things as possible without using your car,” Fraser explains.

“There is tremendous latent demand for urban buzz,” says Hebbert. “You can see it in the take-up rates of residential opportunities close to city centres. It is about a rediscovery of everything that an urban, as opposed to a suburban, lifestyle can offer.

“So the value of proximity is going to increase and, with that, encouragement for a high-quality, high-density urban residential offer. I believe that’s going to be the trend of the coming century.”

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa,

“What do communities living near transport hubs really need?” asks Abigail Thorne-Lyman, director of the US-based Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD). This is the question at the heart of the work that she and her colleagues across the country have been doing since CTOD opened back in 2004.

CTOD is a non-profit partnership of three organisations in the US: Reconnecting America, the Center for Neighbourhood Technology and Strategic Economics, a real estate and development consulting firm. The organisation’s focus is on transit-oriented development (TOD) –mixed-use residential and commercial areas built around transport hubs, such as railways, bus or subway stations, where car use is minimised and pedestrian facilities are emphasised.

In 2004 CTOD published Hidden in Plain Sight, a report highlighting the growing demand for housing in transit-rich communities.

“We wanted to let developers know why they needed to focus on this particular area when considering new housing projects,” says Thorne-Lyman. “We wanted them to see that you can do something different when you build new transit. It’s not always about what developers want to do. It’s about creating a community in an area near transit and developing the area in order to encourage people to build that community.”

Cities such as Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Munich have already demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach. They are known for their large, central railway stations and for the socio-economic benefits that flow from these, including a good traffic-transit balance, thriving city centres and a certain quality of life.

According to Jason Hutchings, responsible for architecture and urban design at Atkins in Hong Kong, the great value of TOD is that it offers attractive development opportunities while being inherently sustainable. It also provides an effective way for transport operators to fund infrastructure projects, thereby reducing the burden on taxpayers.

Hong Kong itself is widely seen as a leading TOD model. Since the mid-1990s the city’s mass-transit authority, the MTR Corporation, has invested in several stations, introducing shops, offices, hotels and leisure amenities on and around these. In the process it has been able to supplement its income, benefiting passengers through better facilities and services, while promoting a sustainable approach.

“The government allowed the MTR Corporation to develop commercially on top of its stations, which means that it not only runs the trains, but it’s also the landlord and, in some cases, the owner of shops, restaurants and residential blocks,” Hutchings says. “It receives money from the property development as well as from operating the trains. An increase in the first activity drives an increase in the second and vice versa.”

The MTR Corporation is now making significantly more profit from its property interests (£290m in 2009) than it is from fares (£171m). Such has the been the quality of its schemes, the company’s retail operation, MTR-Malls, is successfully managing large-scale retail development located further afield from its stations.

Hutchings points out that, as well as providing benefits to transport operators and their passengers, a TOD can give an economic boost to the surrounding area.

“There are collateral benefits of having one in an urban context. It generally uplifts the area and therefore increases property values,” he says.

This position is reiterated by property consultancy Knight Frank, which provides commercial and development advice on TODs in Hong Kong and China. Knight Frank and Atkins’ architects know that integrated transport elements and real estate developments produce the best possible return on investment.

“In land-scarce, high-value cities such as Hong Kong, TODs allow for greater densification and therefore better use of land resources,” says Paul Hart, executive director of Knight Frank Greater China. He adds that the provision of an integrated rail transport solution within a comprehensive development results in significant increases in value. This not only helps to fund the investment in infrastructure but also provides local authorities with an enhanced tax base, as property values in the vicinity will also benefit.

Hart points out that TOD presents opportunities for rail operators to make the most of their non-fare revenues by taking advantage of retail and advertising opportunities within stations. “Non-fare revenue is becoming more important and we are seeing more customer-focused retail being provided in station.”

Professor Chris Hale, a Melbourne-based TOD expert, adds that TODs enable transport operators to plan more easily for the longer term, too. “Mass transit is costly to refurbish and extend. Transit operators need to know how their passenger numbers will increase and how growth is going to occur. Good TOD planning provides some certainty,” he says. “The transport operator wants certainty that it’s not building a white elephant. If development is associated with a transport hub, and the government is behind that hub, there is increased certainty for developers as well.”

While Hutchings and Hale are steadfast TOD enthusiasts, they’re well aware of the challenges involved in realising such schemes. One problem is that pedestrian traffic through TODs tends to be tidal, sweeping in and out during the rush hours. To counteract that, Hutchings says it’s important to integrate different types of commercial business and attractions to fill in for off-peak hours.

On the other hand, TODs can help to solve a common problem with shopping malls: that visitors tend to resist using escalators, stairs and lifts. The normal approach by developers is to put something like a food court on a higher floor in the hope of enticing shoppers there, but that’s not always successful. Stations with underground platforms naturally bring people upwards, though.

“The vertical movement of people is vital to the success of these projects,” Hutchings says. “What’s really good about combining a commercial property development with a metro system is that trains are normally two or three levels down, so people already have to come up through the building from the basement. Integrating this with elevated pedestrian connections and podium facilities encourages vertical movement and activation of multiple retail levels.”

Lake developers

Hong Kong’s TOD success has not been lost on planners in mainland China. Meixi Lake is a new development being built outside the southern city of Changsha. The satellite “eco-city”, which will eventually be home to more than 200,000 people, will be based on four metro stations, each with a distinctive identity. The first incorporates a cultural centre and opera house; the second, a high-end residential area built around a man-made lake; the third, a mixed-use “icon tower”; and the fourth, a business and financial district.

Mark Harrison, senior technical director for Atkins’ urban planning consultancy in China says the idea was to plan high-density, mixed-use cores around the four metro stations.

“The planning strategy located metro stations within 500m walk-in and wider ride-in catchments, to encourage the maximum possible use of public transport.”

The aim is to reduce carbon and other harmful emissions, promote accessibility to a wide range of facilities for all sections of the community, and maximize land values around the stations. An integrated approach to transport planning connects all modes to the key metro station interchanges and there is a transport hierarchy: the focus is on zero carbon (pedestrians/cyclists) and low carbon (metro and other public transit) transport.

The plan facilitates the creation of identity and legibility within each TOD cluster instead of focusing all landmark buildings within the CBD. This approach, together with attention to the public realm, promotes identity and sense of place across the site.

By diversifying land uses, the plan also builds a degree of flexibility into the subsequent implementation stages.

Harrison says that the Meixi Lake masterplan will emerge in phases over the next 15 years. The lake and river corridors are already built as well as some main arterial roads and other service infrastructure.

Different strokes

As TODs have sprung up around the world, they have inevitably taken on different characteristics. Not every transport operator will want, or be able, to take the TOD concept as far as the MTR Corporation has done in Hong Kong, for example. Nor will many developers have the scope to create a city from scratch.

In most cases the TODs will be more modest affairs, perhaps incorporating a few retail and food outlets and a pedestrian area outside. But the starting point of any TOD project can have a big influence on its outcome, as CTOD’s Thorne-Lyman points out. If developers are given free rein, there’s a risk that people at the lower end of the income scale could be pushed out and that doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run.

A lot of CTOD’s recent research in the US, for example, has focused on mixed-income TOD and the preservation of housing. “We call it ‘revitalisation without displacement’, where you’re able to capture those revitalising aspects without sacrificing residential opportunities for lower-income households or displacing people,” she says.

Much of CTOD’s work has focused on communities that are adding fixed-guideway transit lines for the first time – eg, heavy, commuter and light rail, monorail, trolleycars, aerial trams and cable cars – and trying to decipher the potential effects of that investment.

“For many regions, this is an unprecedented investment and we’re trying to help them anticipate its impact on communities and to determine how to get the most out of TOD’s revitalising aspects,” says Thorne-Lyman. “And there can be quite a bit of resistance to the idea: there is no sense of how TOD might change a lower-income community, for example. There is a fear that low-income residents will have to move somewhere further away if property values rise quickly owing to the introduction of a TOD.

“TOD is a complicated build. Mixed-use development is hard enough because you’re pulling from several different lending streams, including retail and offices and residential, but then you add mixed use and all the extra infrastructure and it’s even more complicated. Often the first developer in the door risks not making any money. As such, TOD isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for developers looking for a quick win.”

Hale, who has a doctorate in TOD-related economics and planning, says that while the US is still at a relatively early stage in its adoption of TODs, East Asia and Europe are most advanced.

“In Asia there seems to be an intuitive understanding of both the value and the scarcity of land close to transit infrastructure,” he says. “The result has been a substantial and dense clustering of residential, commercial and retail activities and development around high-performance rail systems. Asian cities are quite simply the most transit-oriented of all city types.”

He contrasts the ability of East Asian authorities and developers “to get things done” with that of their US counterparts, where even relatively small TOD projects have been stymied by years of planning disputes. Australia, by comparison, has “rhetorically adopted” TODs, but not always followed through. “The big four cities have all adopted big transit-oriented regional plans. But Sydney is doing it: 70 per cent of new housing there is built in these types of locations,” he says.

Certainly, TOD is not for the faint-hearted. Hale describes such projects as “more technically challenging than a lot of developments”. Integrating two different building types can set off statutory and zoning complications. And usually there are many interested parties. “It is quite an intensive form of development in a built-up area, so there needs to be lots of co-ordination with local stakeholders,” he adds.

Still, Hutchings says the challenges are all surmountable and that the benefits, all told, easily outweigh the effort required. “TODs present planning, statutory and infrastructural issues that need addressing, but that’s why transport operators and developers need consultants such as Atkins,” he says. “In truth, I haven’t come across any negative impacts from designing and delivering TODs.”

Asia Pacific, North America, UK & Europe,

While the London Underground opened its doors in 1863, for much of the world, a fully functional metro system remains an expensive dream to be fulfilled. Yet cities are finding the finances and making the investment. What is it about metro systems that is so appealing?

From Doha to Hong Kong and from Dubai to Copenhagen, Atkins’ expertise is playing a vital part in the race to deliver some of the most exciting and innovative metro projects in the world. Despite the economic downturn, the market for new, refurbished and extended metro systems continues to boom, driven by soaring urban populations, congestion and concerns about climate change.

Typically, construction costs range from £30m-£250m per kilometre. That’s around twice as expensive as building light rail and ten times more than laying tramways. Dedicated bus systems are cheaper still. Why do so many cities take the metro route?

According to Anne-Grethe Foss, CEO of Metroselskabet, the Copenhagen Metro operator, it’s about achieving long-term value for money: “Metro is the most expensive in terms of construction costs, but if you look at the lifetime costs, metro is better than the other two systems. It attracts more passengers and doesn’t cost as much to operate.”

Building bright new stations and providing reliable, comfortable trains – the Copenhagen Metro has both – attracts new passengers and helps to achieve the transport planners’ Holy Grail: modal shift. This means luring people out of cars and onto other less polluting modes of transport.

Metro systems also offer a degree of cachet that other modes of public transport lack. That’s important because it helps to attract people who might not normally use public transport.

“Passengers have a choice, so the aesthetic dimension is very important,” says Foss, one of Europe’s most experienced rail executives and a qualified architect. “The metro is attractive. We get passengers who would never use a bus. People want to be part of the metro and they like to say they’re using it because they’re helping to cut down on CO2 emissions.”

The decision to build the Copenhagen Metro – which opened in 2002 and is undergoing further expansion – was driven by a desire to spur growth in the city. It also minimised the environmental impacts associated with the developments related to the construction of the Øresund Bridge, which links Copenhagen with Malmö in Sweden and has created a virtual metropolitan area with a population of more than two million.

Dealing with development

The forces shaping the decision to build new metros – and to upgrade existing ones – differ from city to city, says Paul Abbosh, regional development director for Atkins in the Middle East.

“The most important factor in rapidly developing economies such as India and China is the large-scale migration of people from the countryside to the cities,” Abbosh says.

“In places such as Doha and Dubai, it’s about keeping a growing marketplace functioning. If you’re looking to develop a city as a service centre or a centre for tourism and shopping, you need to keep it moving and not let people get snarled up in traffic.”

With more than half of the global population now living in cities and around 600,000 million vehicles jostling for space on the world’s increasingly congested roads, it’s clear that efficient metro systems are essential to economic survival.

Take Hong Kong, a key market for Atkins: rail is the backbone of its public transport system, embracing everything from light rail through to heavy metro with fast trains. It’s one of the most densely populated metropolitan regions on earth and it’s geographically complex: the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region includes both the New Territories and Hong Kong Island.

Hong Kong’s population has grown rapidly over the past 30 years. The current population, now more than seven million, is up three million from 1975. Hong Kong’s rail system is acknowledged to be one of the world’s safest and most reliable. Almost all of it has been built in the past 30 years.

“The railways here are essentially new build,” says John Blackwood, director of rail for Atkins. “Hong Kong has adopted a highly integrated approach to railway development and there are close links between transport and urban planning.” Property development in Hong Kong is closely co-ordinated with new rail construction. It’s a symbiotic relationship, which cuts the risk for rail operators and property developers alike. The close link between railways and property development is nothing new. Back in 1915, London’s Metropolitan Railway created the concept of “Metro-land” as a way to promote its train services. The company bought up rural land beside its new lines and developed it, thus creating a ready supply of passengers and, in the process, creating a model of suburban development that spread worldwide.

Today, few rail operators would be willing or able to speculate in this way. Constructing a metro system is expensive and getting such projects off the ground often involves state or municipal support. In the Gulf States, that might take the form of direct funding from sovereign wealth funds. In Hong Kong, development rights awarded to the railway operator once provided majority support, though this is changing to a more diversified system of funding. Metro financing in Copenhagen is generated by sales of green field areas belonging to the state and the local authorities.

Perfect partnerships

Rail development is an increasingly collaborative exercise and it’s one in which Atkins plays a major part.

“We advise clients across the board,” says Abbosh. “They include government authorities, ministries, municipalities and developers creating work, rest and play-type developments that require transport.”

Arguments about sustainability are also playing a growing part in building a case for new metro systems. Taking an electric train, for example, produces around a third of the CO2 of an equivalent journey by car. That’s just one facet of the case for rail. Particulate emissions are lower, less land is required than for roads and metro journeys are invariably faster, as well as safer, than car journeys.

But urban design that’s based on rail is sustainable in other ways too, notes Abbosh: “If you can reduce road trips around your development by putting in place a sensible transport policy, you can build at higher density. If you can build denser, you get more profit.”

Metro Middle East

Doha, the capital city of the State of Qatar, has ambitious plans to upgrade its infrastructure as part of its 2030 masterplan. This includes a metro system linking the airport with the city centre and other busy areas. But there is an important milestone on the way to 2030 for Qatar – its hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The initial segments of the metro will be in operation before 2022 in order to transport fans to the various stadia in and around the city – the metro will be vital in ensuring smooth transportation during this historic event. In 2011, Atkins was appointed by the Government of Qatar to set up and run a new Central Planning Office, the role of which is to oversee and co-ordinate the work of the various authorities implementing major infrastructure projects over the coming decade. The work includes ensuring that the various transport systems provide an integrated, multi-modal solution, with the metro as its backbone. In common with metros around the world, the Doha metro will be underground within the congested city centre: Atkins is also advising on the sequencing of the metro and other infrastructure projects to ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum while construction takes place.

In Dubai, the initial segment of the region’s first metro system was opened in 2009 and the second line two years later. Commissioned by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), the Dubai Metro is designed to reduce congestion, improve travel times and cut pollution. Atkins was the design consultant for the Dubai Rapid Link Consortium, the project contractor. “It was a major initiative,” stresses Abbosh. “Everything was achieved at a fast pace and on a considerable scale. It included 75km of track, 47 stations, nine tunnels, three depots and three car parks. The challenge, in terms of co-ordination and logistics, was to deliver it with minimum interference to the surrounding city.” Now fully operational, the Dubai Metro is the world’s longest driverless system. It is also one of the best appointed, with elegant architect-designed stations and swift, comfortable trains complete with wireless information systems.

Success in driving forward major metro projects continues to earn Atkins prestige contracts around the world. These include high-profile implementations such as the systems integration contract for the Makkah metro in Saudi Arabia, which provides safe, comfortable transportation for Hajj pilgrims. “The Dubai Metro enabled us to build up expertise in the civil design of railways here in the Middle East, and the Makkah metro demonstrates the other string to our bow, which is the rail systems side,” says John Newby, a director of infrastructure with Atkins. “It’s enabling us to show the full range of services on metros.”

Asia Pacific, UK & Europe,

In early 2013, Britain’s Prime Minister claimed the country must, “get on board the high speed revolution”. He was speaking about HS2, a rail project that will link London with cities in the northwest of the country. It will include 330 miles of track and will be built at an estimated cost of up to £34.5bn.

The justification for the expenditure, according to the Prime Minister, is that it will help secure economic prosperity across Britain and ensure the country remains competitive in the global marketplace. But this is not a compelling argument for all concerned. There is a perception that benefits are restricted to the areas closest to the station hubs while the disruption caused by construction will affect everyone along the route. For this reason, many protesters believe the benefits do not outweigh the costs.

“High speed rail schemes can be a hotly debated investment,” says Atkins’ business development director, Dr Andy Southern. “But in the UK, the demand for rail services has risen faster than the standard rail forecasts predicted, which means that additional capacity requirements do need to be considered.”

But why invest in new high speed lines instead of upgrading conventional networks? According to Southern, high speed rail should be seen as a means of shaping economic geographies rather than being considered an isolated transport project. It should also form part of a wider strategic plan so investment can be judged against its contribution to economic growth, social cohesion and environmental improvement.

“Governments need to be clear about the size and distribution of the potential economic benefits,” he says. “For example, does high speed rail offer better value for money than investing in local transit projects?”

The potential economic benefits include a reduction in journey time, improved productivity in the employment centres served and the scope to use existing track capacity to improve local commuter services. The number of travellers who decide to take the train rather than fly or drive to their destination will have a significant impact on the possible environmental benefits.

In continental Europe, high speed lines have reduced journey times between established major centres, for example, London, Paris and Brussels, and at the same time stimulated growth and economic regeneration in these and intermediate centres such as Lille in France and Ashford in the UK. In Japan, high speed rail has transformed outlying rural communities into new urban centres while in China, it forms the main arteries that are shaping a rapidly growing economy.

Atkins is acting as lead advisor in Scandinavia, where a high speed network is providing the connectivity necessary to create the “Scandinavian 8 million city”, joining Copenhagen in Denmark, Gothenburg and Malmo in Sweden and Oslo in Norway to form a new region that is at the centre of government measures to drive global competitiveness. Similarly, the proposals for a high speed line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore promise to greatly enhance the links between the two centres as well as increase economic activity in the other towns and cities served.

“When plans for a high speed line are being drawn up, it is also crucial to consider the local infrastructure requirements that will be necessary to support high quality and large-scale transit oriented development (TOD), Atkins’ Jason Hutchings, who is responsible for architecture and urban design at Atkins in Hong Kong, explains.

“Capturing the increase in land values and the planning gain as contributions to the capital and running costs of rail and associated infrastructure reinforces the need for an integrated and holistic approach to planning,” he says. “High speed rail, while not a primary driver for TOD in terms of footfall, greatly increases the status, and therefore the value of associated property development, in terms of civic prominence as well as commercial ROI”.

The scale of the investment and the time it takes to plan, design and deliver high speed schemes require political resolve and some certainty over long-term funding arrangements.

As Southern says: “It is vital that any scheme offers value for money, is financially affordable and deliverable in planning and engineering terms. A carefully researched evidence base that gives the public and private sectors the confidence to invest in a high speed scheme is paramount to success.“

UK & Europe,

On 6am in central London on a bank holiday Monday at the end of May 2011, about 40 UK club runners jogged across a start line on The Mall, the ceremonial route leading to nearby Buckingham Palace. As they set out to cover the 26 or so miles of an invitational marathon event, they entered a footnote into history. They were the first athletes taking part in an Olympic event set in London since August 1948.

They were also the first of about 8,000 participants in what was billed “the world’s largest rehearsal”– a total of 45 test events that were scheduled to take place in the year leading up to London 2012, with athletes from more than 50 nations due to compete in front of 250,000 spectators. Dubbed “London prepares”, this series of test events, from archery to artistic gymnastics and from table tennis to taekwondo, was designed to help perfect the London 2012 Games.

The programme was organised by LOCOG, the London Organising Committee overseeing the planning and development of the Games. It was designed mainly to test the fields of play; the results, timing and scoring systems; and the key operational procedures.

Crucial preparation

“The test programme has been critical from the point of view that this is for a one-off event,” notes James Bulley, director of venues and infrastructure at LOCOG. “We don’t get the opportunity to solve teething problems over a long period. The Games come and go pretty quickly – we have to get it right first time.”

What’s more, testing is vital in order to avoid giving any athletes undue advantage: “For any sport, you can’t have a situation where there’s bias in the environment that will assist anyone unfairly,” adds Steve Cardwell, Atkins’ project manager for London 2012. For example, something as simple as an uneven distribution of sand in beach volleyball could give one team an unexpected edge. Testing can literally help to level the playing field. “It’s a question of making sure that everything is just right.”

Atkins has already played an important part in London 2012’s development: from site planning at Horse Guards Parade, to environmental assessment in the Olympic Park, to advising on the overall temporary overlay strategy for the Games. There is an awareness that each piece of the puzzle must help to make the event as memorable as possible for the right reasons.

“With an event of this magnitude, where the world’s eyes will be on us, but more important, where athletes have been training extremely hard for years, we can’t afford to make mistakes,” agrees Ada Gonzalez of Atkins, who is currently seconded to LOCOG, where she is responsible for the design and installation management overview of the services containment – from buried cables to the poles and trusses designed to keep power and other key services flowing to six venues.

“A test event is an ideal way not only to verify the new methods, the equipment, the operation and all of the required resources, but also to incorporate all the lessons learned for the Games themselves,” she says.

“It’s also about testing our workforce”, adds Bulley, “so they get the opportunity to be involved in the sports that they will be responsible for at Games time and rehearsing how they need to operate.”

The test series features some world-class sporting events – including the UIPM Modern Pentathlon World Cup Final and the UCI Track Cycling World Cup – and has already brought top athletes to many iconic London locations. In all, 43 sports and 28 venues fall under the “London prepares”banner.

The test programme was structured in three clusters that broadly relate to the three types of venue in use. The temporary venues’ testing was part of cluster one, roughly 12 months before these venues will be used in earnest. Next, the existing venues – such as the ExCeL London exhibition centre and the North Greenwich Arena – were tested over the winter (they have heating). And, lastly, the new-build permanent structures, including the aquatics centre, velodrome and main stadium, have been tested throughout the spring. In the case of the permanent structures, the programme was timed such that anything being tested can remain in place until the Games.

Jeff Keas is principal architect with Populous, the firm working with LOCOG to design and develop all London 2012 venues using temporary overlay. While LOCOG decided which test events would be run and at what level – world championship or invitational, with spectators or not, with broadcasters or not – Populous was brought in to develop the infrastructure designs for the test events. Meanwhile, Atkins prepared overall performance specifications for the civil works, structural works, acoustics and fire safety.

“Often it’s an existing venue such as ExCeL,” Keas says. “You have the building, but inside it’s just big empty halls. We bring in seating and other temporary materials being used for the Games, from tenting to cabins. We have a ‘kit of parts’ and use that to develop the design.”

Populous has also designed temporary venue overlay for locations where there isn’t a viable structure in place. These venues are a key feature of London 2012. In fact, LOCOG is using almost the same amount of overlay as the three previous summer Olympics combined.

“That was intentional and it’s a very sustainable approach,” Keas says. “We’re not building any white elephants. From a testing point of view, if something is going to be put together just for the Games – such as the beach volleyball arena at Horse Guards Parade – then we have to build it during the test events.” Part of the challenge for London 2012, then, has been not only testing venues in operation. Much of the time, it’s involved testing the construction of the venues themselves.

Don’t scare the horses

This includes Greenwich Park, which played host to a temporary three-day-event cross-country course, as well as a temporary main arena for dressage, show-jumping and the shooting and jumping events of the modern pentathlon. An invitational three-day test event was held at Greenwich in July 2011.

It constituted not only a big build in a limited period, but it was created on a sensitive World Heritage site: Greenwich Park itself. Owing to the uneven surface, a wedge-shaped platform made from plywood, aluminium and steel and held above ground by 2,100 pillars had to be built in order to level the arena where the shooting and equestrian events take place. Atkins was involved in the original feasibility work that led to the selection of the platform. It produced the performance specifications and supervised the contractors as they did the detailed design and installation. During the event, Atkins oversaw how the platform was performing.

As Cardwell notes, “We had to make sure that the vibration of the platform was minimal so the horses didn’t feel it and to prevent any undue impact on the ground, which includes a lot of archaeology as well as utilities and services that mustn’t be damaged.”

Keas concurs: “We wanted to ensure that it wouldn’t scare the horses and that we could put an event into a World Heritage site with the right level of care.” In fact, he says, the venue and platform passed with flying colours.

Unique challenge

The most time-constrained temporary venue is Horse Guards Parade. The Queen uses the space to host the annual Trooping the Colour event in June. This gives LOCOG a six-week window in which to construct a main centre court, two warm-up courts and three training courts, along with all the ancillary requirements, including spectator seating for 15,000, catering and toilets, broadcast facilities and lockers.

The test event, says Bulley, gave LOCOG the chance to test logistics and to understand the site conditions, and the relationships with the venue owners.

“This is a highly sensitive area with Grade I listed buildings. The test gave us the opportunity to understand how we are going to move trucks through Westminster, where the set-down areas will be and how to bring equipment in and out of that space.”

Duncan Firth works for Drivers Jonas Deloitte, which has a team of project managers in place at LOCOG to look after the design, build, installation and removal of the temporary venues in the Royal Parks. Firth is the project manager responsible for Horse Guards Mall, which is The Mall and Horse Guards Parade combined.

Like Greenwich Park, the field of play for the beach volleyball event is on top of a platform. It can’t be put on the gravel of Horse Guards Parade itself because the sand has to remain uncontaminated and well drained, during both the test phase and the Games themselves. It comprises a complex structure built in the shape of a shallow swimming pool and is designed to hold the 3,000 tonnes of sand transported from Surrey on 120 lorries and moved into place on conveyor belts.

The sand needed to meet the stringent specifications of beach volleyball’s governing body. In use, rain needed to drain freely through a membrane under the sand and disperse harmlessly on to the parade ground itself. Both the sand quality and the field of play were given a resounding thumbs-up by the athletes.

Technology is also a significant piece of work for all concerned and must be tested just as thoroughly. For example, Atkins was involved in developing the designs for the cable routings for all of the test event venues, including the beach volleyball arena. Drivers Jonas Deloitte worked with Omega to install its scoreboards, video boards, timing and results infrastructure. All of this work feeds into the Games network, which links back to the main hub at LOCOG and will, among other things, be an important source of timely results updates for the media. Given the number of suppliers involved, testing that network functioned properly was essential.

“We tested it”, Firth says, “and now we know that it actually works.”

Lessons learned

The test events have clearly proven to be a worthwhile exercise. “There is a huge amount of learning that comes out of every test event in terms of how the operational teams work together,” Bulley says.

“The value of testing can’t be overestimated,” agrees Firth. As a result, there have been reviews and changes have been made accordingly. The equestrian surface and the BMX surface have been revised after further trials. Also some aspects of technology, transport and crowd management arrangements have been tweaked.

Another key element for LOCOG is testing so-called “C3”: command, communications and co-ordination of information. “That’s how we communicate as an organisation, how decisions are made, how issues are escalated,” Bulley says. “All of these aspects are being tested and we’ve got some very helpful insights from it.”

An added benefit of the testing has been informing and getting people used to what it will be like at Games time. The best example was the road cycling test event that involved 150 world-class cyclists, six London boroughs, four Royal Parks and road closures in Surrey along a 140km route. The quality of liaison with numerous stakeholders was key to the success of the event, as was the co-operation of the public.
And one of the biggest gains from the test programme is the way it has built relationships and confidence with stakeholders, among contractors, with the public, the broadcasters and not least with the athletes and their respective federations.

“The test programme covers the whole London 2012 experience,” says Atkins’ Cardwell. “Transport, security, the food, the spectators’ sight lines, the athletes’ experience – all of these things factor in. And, when you have a test event, the learning goes up exponentially. Everybody wants to make the experience brilliant come Games time and these test events could make all the difference.”

UK & Europe,

“The world has a combined need for a low carbon, secure and affordable energy supply right now,” says Chris Ball, director of nuclear at Atkins in the UK. “Nuclear is the only proven large-scale generator of low-carbon electricity that meets these criteria. It is a major part of a balanced energy mix, which includes renewable and other technologies.”

After two decades out in the cold, the international nuclear industry’s fortunes have changed. There are 66 nuclear power stations under construction around the world and it’s estimated that 200 reactors could be built over the next two decades.

As of March 2012, China had 26 reactors under construction, 51 planned in before 2030 and a further 120 proposed. In Russia, ten are under construction, with 41 planned or proposed. And, while only one is currently being built in the US, there are potentially 30 others in the pipeline. The World Nuclear Association predicts that by 2015, one 1,000MW unit could be coming online, somewhere around the world, every five days.

In the UK, the big shift back to nuclear began in 2006 with a government white paper authorising the construction of new power stations. Since then, eight sites for reactors have been confirmed. Two bidders – EDF Energy and Horizon Nuclear Power (a joint venture involving E.ON UK and RWE npower) – tabled proposals for new plants, although E.ON and RWE later changed their plans, putting Horizon up for sale. Responding to the news, UK energy minister Charles Hendry argued that this development gave new players “an excellent ready-made opportunity to enter the market”.

Ultimately, there’s one major hurdle that still needs to be overcome before that nuclear future becomes a reality: fears over the safety of nuclear that have re-emerged as a result of the Fukushima disaster.

A safer nuclear future

In light of Fukushima, governments turned to their experts to assess the events in Japan and advise their domestic nuclear industries on the lessons that could be learned. In Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, this may have bought an end to nuclear ambitions, but in the UK, chief nuclear inspector and head of UK Office for Nuclear Regulation, Mike Weightman, gave the industry a positive report on its approach to safety. He was satisfied that both sides – operators and regulators – worked well together to ensure standards were met. No significant weaknesses were found in the UK’s nuclear licensing regime and no gaps were discovered in the scope or depth of the safety assessment principles already in place. His final report concludes: “We see no reason for curtailing the operation of nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities in the UK.”

This was not a green light for nuclear development, however. It simply confirmed that the approach to nuclear safety taken in the UK is fit for purpose. It also highlighted the fact that safety must remain the first priority for all stakeholders: “We expect the industry to take the prime responsibility for learning lessons, rather than relying on the regulator to tell it what to do.”

Designs for a nuclear life

Continuing with the UK example, the concern for safety reflected in the Weightman report is not simply a reaction to Fukushima. New reactor designs have been required to undergo comprehensive safety checks under the government’s generic design assessment (GDA) process since 2007. If it does not pass the GDA, a reactor design will not be granted regulatory consent.

This is in line with the long-term goals for safe nuclear power generation in the UK, according to Kevin Allars, director of new nuclear build with the Office for Nuclear Regulation at the HSE: “Our mission is to secure protection of the public and society from the hazards of the nuclear industry. That’s what we strive to do. We want reactors to meet the highest standards of safety, security and environmental protection. We must not stand still but continually strive for reasonable and practical improvements to make these reactors and anything else the industry does as safe as possible.”

The GDA is intended to strike a balance between the need for safety and the needs of investors. It represents a more collaborative approach to regulation than has been the case in the past and includes a strategy for working with overseas regulators.

“Through the GDA, we assess new plants at the design phase, which means we are in a much better position to ensure that new reactors are built to the high standards of safety, security and, with my colleagues in the Environment Agency, environmental protection,” says Allars. “It’s much easier to influence the design when it’s on paper than when it’s actually being built. The GDA process is unique to the UK. No other country has undertaken this work in this way.”

Although that process can be lengthy, it needs to be conducted only once for each design. Energy companies can then duplicate the approved design at different locations, subject to a separate site licensing process which will address site-specific variances to the generic design.

In the UK two designs were shortlisted for approval in 2011: the UK EPR (designed by EDF Energy and Areva) and the AP1000 (designed by Westinghouse). Both are Generation III+ reactors, based on proven pressurised-water technology, offering improved efficiency and safety, a higher level of standardisation and a longer operational life than previous designs. Overseas implementations of both designs are at an advanced stage and tentative approvals have been given in the UK, following supplemental questioning in the GDA process.

“After the Fukushima disaster we asked the designers of these new reactors to go back and have a look at what they had already done and see what effect Fukushima has had on the safety cases they put forward in the different technical areas,” says Allars. “That’s what they have done and now we have a plan in place from them explaining what they intend to do in light of lessons learned from Fukushima.”

As a further boost to the nuclear industry in the UK, the fact that there are only two blueprints on the table could be of great benefit. Contrast this with what happened 50 years ago, when the government went with advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR) technology. This was later abandoned, but only after several power stations had been built to different AGR designs. This made them expensive to build and it continues to make them costly to maintain in legacy. “Standardisation is important,” says Tony Roulstone, course director of the Atkins-sponsored MPhil in nuclear energy at the University of Cambridge. “The UK has seven old AGRs and there are four different types. If you build everything as a first of a kind, you incur all the costs.”

As well as saving money, standardised designs also allow for consistent safety measures to be implemented across all sites as well as cutting construction times – crucial to the long-term viability of new builds, given that the longer it takes, the higher the interest charges will be for the project.

“Sticking to a standard design and simplifying construction will help. In South Korea, for example, they have been consistently building about one reactor a year for the past 15 years and taking costs out at every step,” Roulstone says.

A question of skills

Such progress in tough economic times is music to the ears of politicians and economists, but it creates risks of its own. The shortage of engineering expertise is a concern shared across the world, both at a corporate level and in terms of individual engineering talent.

The bids being tabled for new nuclear build reflect this concern. Instead of working solo, most players are looking to collaborate with others in the field. For example, Atkins is working as part of the Engage consortium to deliver an innovative experimental fusion reactor in one of Europe’s biggest engineering contracts of all time. In addition, the company formed “n.triple.a” – the Nuclear Atkins Assystem Alliance – with leading French engineering firm Assystem, to provide consultancy and engineering services to the nuclear new-build market.

The average age of an employee in the UK’s nuclear industry is worryingly high at 50. In the US, only six per cent of nuclear workers are under the age of 32. So it’s crucial to recruit and train new talent.

“There’s going to be a worldwide demand for nuclear skills over the next 20 years, so we need a new generation of managers and technologists,” says Roulstone. “But nuclear power involves a lot of different technologies, so it’s not something you can teach very well at first-degree level.”

The industry is doing what it can to support this effort to develop new talent. Last year, the International Institute of Nuclear Energy opened its doors in France – the world’s most advanced nuclear economy. Set up by the government, it brings together the country’s education establishments, research organisations and companies to share training best practice overseas.

Atkins also provides comprehensive nuclear training for both its existing engineers and new graduates via the Nuclear Training Academy, which is run in collaboration with the University of Central Lancashire.

Footing the nuclear bill

The skills gap is only one challenge facing the nuclear industry. Financing the next generation of nuclear plants and shepherding their development will be no small matter.

For the UK, the political landscape has changed dramatically since Britain’s ambitious nuclear programmes of the 1960s and 1970s. The electricity industry’s privatisation in 1990 signalled the government’s withdrawal from the energy arena as far as capital projects were concerned.

The new set of nuclear power stations will be financed entirely by the private sector. But, to attract that private investment, the government is reducing red tape and legislative uncertainties. Measures include changes to the planning regime, with fast-track procedures for crucial projects such as power stations. There’s also a new approach to nuclear regulation.

All of this will fall under the aegis of Infrastructure UK, the standalone government body charged with co-ordinating the design, planning and financing of the UK’s big infrastructure developments over the next five years. One of the new body’s first actions was to give the green light to the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor.

The industry across the world is beginning to learn some hard lessons, but the result should be a safer nuclear future for us all. Clearly, fewer reactor designs, closer collaboration and a willingness to learn from the past should all pay dividends in terms of standardisation, safety and cost, making the process, from planning through to decommissioning, that much more straightforward. Taking a proactive stance will support this process and set the groundwork for a truly sustainable and secure nuclear future.

UK & Europe,

Electric dreams

15 Jun 2011

The car may always rank below riding a bicycle or walking as an environmentally friendly transport choice but this gap is closing. It’s a forced evolution as regional bodies everywhere legislate to bring vehicle emissions down in line with their climate change ambitions. Still, there are barriers to ultimate success as the cleanest vehicles can work only if there is the infrastructure to support them.

Considering that road vehicles account for about one-fifth of CO2 emissions globally, this issue is pressing. The big challenge for transport planners, especially those working in cities, is how to embed an electric power network into the existing transport system and make the solution economical and sustainable. It will require a major engineering effort, with transport planning experts working alongside vehicle manufacturers, urban realm designers and utility companies to plan the changes in a seamless way.

Keith McCabe, chair of the carbon working group at Intelligence Transport Systems (ITS) UK and principal consultant on electric vehicles at Atkins, says that in seeking solutions, planners are discovering new efficiencies by integrating vehicles, distribution and energy supply. There is no “one size fits all” approach, however.

“Take Denmark, where they have an excess of wind energy. They’ve chosen to prioritise ‘battery swap’ technology. Rather than having the bulk of vehicles charging over night, ‘swap-out batteries’ are charged by utilities over night in large numbers using wind power and then swapped over during the day,” McCabe says.

In Japan, meanwhile, renewable energy company Better Place has been testing a refuelling system that allows a robotic mechanism to swap the empty battery in an electric car for a fully charged one. This means electric cars can be “refilled” in minutes, rather than several hours.

In Europe, Project Merge has drawn together leading thinkers and engineers to begin building a power network for electric vehicles. The focus there is on analysing the impact of introducing electric cars on current and future electricity distribution networks.

“There are pilot programmes around the world looking at the practicalities. In the UK, the CABLED project’s interim results, for example, found that a large percentage of electric car drivers are using them as they would use a normal car, which is encouraging,” says Paul J Taylor, head of technology for air quality and greenhouse gas management at Atkins. “The statistics show that most of the journeys were below five miles, while the average daily mileage is about 20 to 25 miles, which is well within the operating range of the electric vehicles used in the pilots. They have a range of about 80 miles a day.”

The new breed

These findings strengthen the argument that electric vehicles can become commonplace. It is expected that all of the big vehicle companies will have some mainstream production models of electric vehicles in circulation in the next two years.

While the cars themselves are improving, the real challenge is to equip urban and suburban areas with a fully functional electric transport network. The UK is taking a firm grasp of this. In London, for example, plans to realise the mayor’s ambition to make the city the electric vehicle capital of Europe are well under way. At least 1,300 charging points will be installed in public locations by the end of 2013 and local government body Transport for London (TfL) has finalised a contract that will see Siemens manage the operation of the network and registration of drivers.

The UK is also supporting the Plugged in Places programme, with Manchester becoming one of the successful bidding cities. The programme provides a glimpse of how cities will need to adopt an integrated approach in order to construct a viable electric transport network.

The principal benefit that greater electric car use will bring to communities is clearly a significant reduction in carbon emissions. David Hytch of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive believes the second big benefit is the ability to at last “develop a really comprehensive smarter transport offering that is going to appeal to a much wider range of people and start to get into the bulk of people who’ve either been very resistant or haven’t really bothered to think about it too much”.

Hytch believes “park and ride” will become the more attractive option as electric cars begin to appear. Instead of driving all the way into the centre of Manchester, people will be more inclined to use the mixed network provided, including the city’s extended Metrolink tram system and an improved bus service.

Planners following Manchester’s lead will need to address a number of issues the pilot has identified. Top of the list is “range anxiety”: the fear among drivers that electric car batteries will unexpectedly run out of charge, leaving them stranded. It’s something that Hytch’s team has factored into its plans: “We’re learning that range anxiety can go away as people begin to trust that there is a network they can rely on. On the issue of charge time, people don’t like to go much below half of full charge before they plug in and get going again. It’s those sorts of things that matter, as well as quite a few lessons about the back office and how people like to pay.”

Julian Weber, head of innovation projects for e-mobility at BMW Project i, says that quick-charging stations, such as those already established in Japan, are not necessarily needed for routine daily use, but still provide an important function.

“The Tokyo Electric Power Company introduced quick charging stations during fleet tests. After installation, the average trip length until recharge almost doubled, but people still didn’t use the stations. So they only had these things for their peace of mind,” he explains.

Atkins’ McCabe observes that the network will work only if it has an intuitive capability to track usage trends and the like.

“Building these networks creates both tension and opportunity in the local area, in so much that traditionally the information management on things like parking, travel movements and traffic flow has been within the sphere of the local or national authorities,” he says. “Naturally they have been quite protective of that and tried to have all of their own data collection, and all of their own information provision through their own controlled website, for example.”

In McCabe’s view, building a viable transport network based on electric vehicles will require the public and private sectors to work together to ensure the sources of information can be merged.

“There will be questions about how you get what is currently public information into private vehicles,” he says. “This will present a serious challenge for local authorities and the people who operate electric vehicle fleets.”

And it’s not only data that will need to be shared. Manchester’s scheme relies on private-sector backing and has been designed as a commercial network run for profit. At the same time, Plugged in Places has benefited from an initial £30m direct government subsidy, signalling an acceptance that the public sector clearly must play a leading role in driving the adoption of electric cars. And, given the challenges facing the global economy, the rate of investment may be problematic at best.

Crucially, part of the appeal of electric transport rests in its relatively low running cost per mile. In the future, drivers may find themselves being offered incentives to shop at certain supermarkets in order to “fill up” at a discount in their refuelling bays. Again, it’s a question of connecting the dots in order to make the network successful.

And there’s no doubt that any new electric networks will have to be run on a much more data-intensive basis. If half a country’s car fleet were to go electric, electricity demand would rise significantly – some estimates place it at upwards of 25 per cent. Managing the distribution of that power takes on greater importance. And central to that effort will be the development of a suitable technology framework to manage demand and pricing.

Live data

In a world populated by electric vehicles, reliable, real-time information becomes crucial. That’s especially important when it comes to energy costs – specifically the cost of electricity, which in future will vary at different times of the day. It is also important so that vehicle users know when and where they can recharge their cars to be sure of reaching their destinations.

“Think of a simple scenario where you’ve got five cars all in the same street that all come home from work at 6pm,” explains Giles Bridger, industrial products and electric vehicle lead at IBM Global Business Services. His work centres on designing an intelligent infrastructure that mitigates excessive demands on power distribution networks, improves usability and helps to avoid bottlenecks.

“If two of those users aren’t going to use their car for another 24 hours, whereas another one will be going out again three hours later, then with intelligence and two-way communication of information you can balance the user demand and satisfy them all. But if there’s no information and if the users just come home and plug in, then the result is an increase in full demand at peak time, which stretches the generating and distribution networks.”

In order to mitigate the problem, IBM is working with a consortium of electricity industry organisations to grapple with two issues: first, the user experience and, second, power distribution and consumption around the working day.

“That’s where intelligent infrastructure systems (IIS) come into play,” says Bridger. “They allow some control over demand for power through things such as variable pricing, building on things that the electricity industry is working on already with smart metering and smart grids.”

Under the circumstances, smart meters, which monitor the demand for power to give real insight into where, how much and why power is being used, become an important element in future networks.

According to Bridger, IIS will be instrumental in solving these everyday problems. “In particular, we’ve been looking at the electrical impacts of such a scenario and examining the potential impact of upgrading distribution networks,” he says. “Obviously there’s a potential cost on a unit basis for setting up public or private recharging posts – but what’s the potential cost of upgrading the connections to people’s homes and to what extent can you mitigate or avoid those physical costs by using smart intelligent networks?” At a national level the benefits are likely to be huge.

McCabe believes a culture change will be necessary to achieve this vision of an efficient future, as drivers will need to accept the need to be plugged into the network in terms of data as well as power.

“It is the power of the data management that can help you to achieve these breakthroughs, but it’s got to be in the interests of the individual to share that data because it makes their life easier. There also needs to be a conversation about the data protection and privacy issues involved.”

Ultimately, the emissions performance of electric vehicles will depend increasingly on the sources of electricity being used if the “sustainability argument” is going to be won. As such, it’s not only a question of convincing drivers that the future is electric. Utilities, governments, manufacturers and consumers will all need to come together in order to achieve a low-emission future for vehicles.

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North America, UK & Europe,

The mood of uncertainty that greeted the budget cuts in the UK Government’s Spending Review announcements last October meant the news that it was upping its spending on the environment by 21 per cent was somewhat lost. Within the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) itself, capital spending is to increase by 41 per cent in real terms.

Up to £1bn of investment will go to create one of the world’s first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration plants; £860m will be found to launch the Renewable Heat Incentive in 2011-12 to drive a ten-fold increase in renewable heat through technology such as biomass boilers, air- and ground-source heat pumps and biomethane; £200m is being committed to fund low-carbon power generation methods such as offshore wind farms and a green investment bank is to be created with £1bn of funding.

The rate of this sort of investment affects the speed of change but not the direction of travel, which is governed by the Climate Change Act 2008. But, while the government can offer incentives and legislate, senior politicians realise that success will come only if the private sector is properly on board. That means ensuring that supportive moves, such as a floor price for carbon, succeed in raising confidence. It is also important to show that investment in low-carbon services, goods and utilities is money well spent and that laggards are likely to face increasing penalties.

In reality these signals only underline a truth that is becoming universally acknowledged: that there is a great deal of business sense in working to reduce carbon and the cost of carbon.

The business case

But what are businesses doing on the journey towards a low-carbon future? Mike Doble, principal consultant, carbon management, at Atkins company Faithful+Gould, believes that many are still struggling to sort out their priorities.

“Historically, organisations tend not to respond particularly quickly to price signals on energy,” he says. “It’s often seen as a fixed overhead, which is completely untrue. Most organisations will have a lot of scope to save energy and money – there is still a lot of energy being wasted.”

How much is “a lot”? Doble believes the average organisation can look to save between 10 and 20 per cent relatively easily through “tried and tested good practice” – measures such as low-energy lighting, powering down computers, optimising heating and air-conditioning and switching off electrical systems at source. To make sense of these activities, organisations need better energy survey data so that they can benchmark their performance and identify the areas of greatest potential improvement.

Organisations can also structure emissions reduction more effectively. The Carbon Trust Standard certification scheme, for example, was conceived as a way for all organisations to tackle their emissions by measuring, managing and then reducing them over time. Atkins was the first engineering consultancy to achieve this standard. On average, businesses can look for an initial 12 per cent cost saving from implementing the standard and help to boost their reputation in the process.

Organisations that are successful at achieving the standard can then communicate their carbon credentials to stakeholders, investors and customers. This translates into benefits, such as more customers and increased customer and staff loyalty; more interest from ethical investment fund managers and venture capitalists; and better supply chain relationships. Already, almost 500 UK organisations are certified and the Carbon Trust has now developed an online approach tailored to making the scheme more accessible to SMEs.

Investment options

Energy efficiency measures encompass actions ranging from changing plant and equipment to more energy efficient equivalents, to improving building fabric with additional insulation and better air tightness; to using new buildings constructed with more carbon conscious materials and energy-optimised designs.

In tandem with energy efficiency, organisations can also look to use lower carbon energy. In this respect, the UK government is offering an incentive investment with a premium payment to those that are micro-generating energy through its Feed-In Tariffs scheme and now the Renewable Heat Incentive. Such investments have the attraction of delivering income streams as well as lower energy costs. Atkins, for instance, is working with a number of developers to assess the deployment of photovoltaics (PV) across their building portfolios. According to Sean Lockie, sustainability director for Faithful+Gould: “Installing a PV roof to an average home costs about £12,000 and until now the long payback time has meant it hasn’t been a viable option for most UK homeowners. However, the new tariff will improve the return on investment to such an extent that installing PV will become a sensible option for householders and businesses alike.”

Going green and saving money

The impact of investment in carbon reduction can be significant and easily self-financing. When Barclays rolled out one of Atkins’ “carbon tools” – Remote Technology (ArT) – to its 350 sites, the retail bank saved more than 12,000 tonnes of carbon in year one. That translated into 71 per cent of its annual energy reduction target, equalling over £1m in savings since its installation, or just over £400,000 per year.

Phil Whiting, principal sustainability consultant, looks after ArT for Atkins. He explains that ArT monitors building energy consumption and reports on it, but, unlike other monitoring products on the market, ArT also lets organisations change how energy is used at remote sites. That makes a big difference.

“With ArT you can actually turn your boiler off or turn down the air conditioning remotely, so it answers the question: ‘What do I do with meter readings now I have them?’” says Whiting. “It’s about having one estate management product rather than having to reinvest in another piece of kit to actually make the savings.”

On average, ArT customers are seeing a 34 per cent reduction in energy consumption. That means they see a return on their investment within two years. Whiting also notes there are additional operational benefits from ArT. When a server room is overheating, or a boiler misfires, the system can send alerts that enable operators to take action before the impact is acute.

Atkins uses ArT in 12 of its own buildings and produces energy savings of up to 40 per cent – depending on how efficiently the building was running before ArT was installed.

Carbon reduction commitment

Many organisations are already choosing to reduce carbon voluntarily but thousands more UK firms will now have less choice in the matter because of the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC). This is the UK’s mandatory emissions scheme for companies that consumed more than 6,000MWh of half-hourly metered electricity in 2008.

The scheme† was significantly reconfigured in the Government’s 2010 Spending Review. Most notably, “revenue recycling”, where firms doing well on reducing carbon were rewarded at the expense of other scheme members, will no longer take place. From 2012, participants will have to buy allowances equalling the volume of their emissions in the previous 12 months (at the moment each tonne of emissions is priced at £12), with no chance of the money being returned to them.

“The changes will certainly increase the cost of legal compliance quite significantly; at the same time it will give participants more certainty as to costs,” says Doble.

The changes have also uncoupled the link between “early action” and the prospect of receiving more allowances back.

Atkins is helping clients get to grips with the CRC – in terms of both ensuring they are compliant – working with them to validate data and managing the submissions process – and helping them to mitigate their level of liability cost effectively.

Given increasing legislation and public pressure to demonstrate a commitment to the low carbon economy, there are financial reasons for organisations to deal with the situation. But, with the right tools, the results could have long-term benefits for company and climate alike.

UK & Europe,

The UK has a natural gas storage problem. Spain has enough reserves to last an estimated 65 days, Germany’s stand at 77 days and France is on 91 days. In the UK, there could be as few as 14 days of reserves, or about four per cent of its annual consumption.

Reserves jumped significantly after fast-rising oil prices prompted heightened activity to find new sources and increase storage capacity. Natural gas is not used as extensively in the UK as it is in Europe, but it’s still a daunting figure.

What does this mean for the UK? It means that new storage options need to be developed – or future winters could have even more bite.

Cooking with gas

The supply of gas has changed. There is more worldwide competition and the geopolitical risks have increased. And the UK faces its own unique situation. Until 2004, the UK was a net exporter of gas with plentiful deposits in the North Sea. But with North Sea supplies dwindling by seven per cent a year, the UK has become a net importer. By 2015, it could need as much as three-quarters of its supply from abroad.

“Over the past 20 years there was no particular desire on the part of the government to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in storage that wasn’t going to be needed until well into the future,” points out Paul Love, senior analyst with energy consultancy M&C Energy Group. “Since about 2004 the UK has imported gas chiefly through the Norweigan pipeline and also through liquefied natural gas (LNG).”

This stands in sharp contrast to Europe, where the demand for storage has been rising fast. The UK has made a “dash for gas” in the past few years, mothballing some coal and firing up several new gas-powered stations as many nuclear facilities come to the end of their lives. But is it enough?

Without increased storage, the UK could be left open to the vagaries of the global gas market. While most imports currently come via Norway, with LNG imports making up an increasingly large chunk, Russia is also due to start supplying the UK in 2012 via the new pan-Europe Nord Stream pipeline.

Aside from mitigating risks posed by international disputes (such as the one between Russia and Ukraine in recent years), more gas storage would also allow suppliers to smooth out supply and demand.

“Reservoirs and aquifers represent seasonal storage, which helps to reduce the unitised cost for gas in winter,” says Stefan Tenner, manager of the energy team at PricewaterhouseCoopers, based in Düsseldorf. “You buy additional volumes around April, allowing you to achieve arbitrage between the summer-winter spread.”

Ideally, the UK would do something similar. The close proximity of UK storage sites to the gas grid means that gas could be shifted from the grid during summer periods of low demand and stored elsewhere. The gas could then be returned to the grid during the winter, but this has not been the case – yet.

“In Germany, one of the key drivers behind the boom in gas storage was that utilities wanted more flexibility than what they were used to getting in long-term contracts,” says Tenner. “There was a flexibility cost built into contracts. And the only way out of that was to rent storage capacity.”

A grain of salt

A string of storage projects is now under way. The Department of Energy and Climate Change says UK capacity, which stands at about 4.3 billion cubic metres (bcm) now, could rise to about 20bcm by 2021, providing that all the schemes on the drawing board go ahead. Total UK demand at the moment is about 94bcm a year.

There are two main ways to store gas: in depleted reservoirs, such as abandoned oil and gas fields, or in salt caverns (large caverns that are “solution-mined” out of existing salt formations).

While reservoirs tend to be bigger, allowing more gas to be stored in one go, salt caverns are easier and quicker to access, and have shorter filling periods, says Dr Evan Passaris, chief geotechnical engineer at Atkins. There are at least 14 salt cavern projects across the UK at the moment and Atkins is involved in seven.

Salt caverns also require less “cushion gas” than depleted reservoirs (required to maintain pressure and structural integrity) and the vast majority of reserves can be recovered at the end of the cavern’s working life.

“At the end of the useful life of a depleted reservoir, you lose the cushion gas unless you fill it with some form of saline liquid – typically sea water – but that is not something we normally do because it’s not cost effective,” Passaris says.

“You do need both types of storage,” he adds. “You need the reservoirs to meet base demand and cope with seasonal variations. And you need the salt caverns generally to cover the peaks, because they can handle high withdrawal rates. Think of it in these terms: depleted reservoirs act like a deposit account and salt caverns are like an instant access account.”

As such, the salt caverns represent the most efficient and effective option for the UK to pursue, given the strain already being placed on the system. It helps that salt is an ideal storage material. Its porosity and permeability to gaseous products are near zero but can also be hollowed out relatively easily using a solution-mining process.

“Salt is a perfect material because it acts as a container. Healing of fractures is a process distinctively related to salt thanks to its ability to flow plastically, resulting, to some extent, in the closure of fractures,” Passaris says.

The UK salt story

Today’s caverns are much bigger than their forerunners. The Teesside project measured only 2,700 cubic metres but the new caverns have typical volumes to the order of 650,000 cubic metres and tend to be clustered together to increase the overall capacity.

Gaz de France is currently developing a £350m cluster of 28 caverns in Cheshire. Portland Gas will be constructing a £500m 14-cavern cluster off the coast of Dorset. And EDF is repurposing 10 salt caverns in Cheshire (that are currently full of brine) in addition to the four existing operating gas storage caverns. E.ON UK is another major developer in this country.

UK caverns are smaller than those in Germany and France, which have the advantage of structural salt domes that the UK lacks. Single German caverns measure as much as a million cubic metres and are 300 to 400 metres high. UK caverns tend to be less than 200 metres high.

“Germany and France’s gas storage capacity is concentrated around salt caverns, because they have very good quality salt dome formations. We don’t have that in the UK – we have thick layers of salt. And that means we can’t build our caverns as large,” Passaris says.

Through the challenges

Atkins provides many of the services that go into designing and developing salt caverns, including the geological surveys to locate the best sites; carrying out the analysis and numerical modelling to design the caverns; and ensuring that caverns maintain their integrity as operators inject and withdraw gas.

Developers create caverns by pumping fresh or sea water down a pipe into the salt formation. The high-pressure liquid creates a borehole (leaching string) and the resulting brine is returned through the withdrawal/production string. This process progressively dissolves the salt in a controlled manner and the desired shape of the cavern is created by shifting accordingly the heights of the leaching and the production strings, and by using a nitrogen or compressed air “blanket” that limits the upward leaching of the salt. The progress of the cavern leaching process is monitored at regular intervals by undertaking three dimensional sonar surveys. In all, it can take developers as long as two-and-a-half years to create a salt cavern.

Passaris says there are several problems that developers have to watch out for. Once formed, salt caverns are subjected to volume losses owing to salt creep resulting from the overburden stress on the cavity walls. Deep salt caverns subjected to large overburden stress are likely to suffer excessive closure through creep and the consequent loss of their storage capacity. Furthermore, the withdrawal and injection of gas into a cavern causes temperature changes that result in the development of high thermal stresses on the cavern walls.

“These thermal stresses can be very hazardous, especially cooling stresses, which happen when you remove gas. When you cool the walls of a salt cavern, you increase tensile stresses. And rock materials generally have a low tensile strength. We have to make sure we design the cavern so any tensile stresses can be accommodated without any potential failure of the structure,” Passaris says.

A further potential problem encountered during the construction of the caverns comes from the inherent impurity of rock salt. “The difficulty is that rock salt is not a very homogeneous or pure material. It’s not like the salt on the kitchen table. It is a dirty geological material layered with insolubles, such as mudstones, preventing you from creating a cavern with the ideal shape, which is necessary for its structural integrity. You have to regularly monitor the shape of the cavern under development using sonar techniques,” he adds.

Developers also have to work out what to do with all the brine produced during the solution mining process. In some cases, it can be sold – after separating out the insolubles – for industrial uses, or following its treatment it can be discharged into rivers, lakes, or – better – the sea. It is also possible to feed the brine into a saline aquifer and then use it during the process of retrieving gas from a salt cavern by employing the brine compensation method, also known as “wet storage method”.

As an example, the Portland Gas project in Dorset will use the brine compensation method by injecting brine through a central tube at the bottom of the cavern while withdrawing an equivalent volume of gas through the annular space between the cemented casing and the central brine tube. Gas storage projects that use brine compensation technology do not require cushion gas.

With the UK requiring more storage capacity, salt caverns are likely to remain a popular method, although geology will limit the number of sites where caverns can be built. At the same time, the UK is investing in some major depleted reservoir projects – notably the Deborah gas field project, near Bacton, off the coast of Norfolk. That project alone, due to be completed in 2016, could provide 4.6bcm of extra storage capacity – or double what is currently available. The biggest existing offshore storage currently is the Rough depleted gas field, off the coast of Yorkshire, which has a capacity of 2.8bcm.

Are salt caverns and reservoirs the future as far as gas storage is concerned? According to Passaris, it seems to be heading in that direction. Cylindrical gasholders of the sort seen dotted around London are becoming a thing of the past, he says. Inner-city land is too expensive and is more economically used for housing or other purposes. Having a large amount of gas in a residential area is also not the safest thing.

“The interesting thing about the UK is that, from a security point of view, seasonal storage is required, but because the market is so liquid, it actually sends out a signal that more rapid-cycle facilities are required,” observes Tanner. “The UK was smart to build its pipeline with Norway. But it isn’t a bad idea to build up its storage facilities as back-up flexibility options.”

The dash for gas

Though few countries can match the UK’s investments, there has been a boom in gas storage across Europe in recent years.

According to figures compiled by the trade body Gas Storage Europe, total capacity could grow by up to 75 per cent by 2025, if all the projects now planned go ahead. Germany has the biggest storage market, with 20bcm currently and a further 8bcm due by 2025. Austria, Italy and Spain are also planning big jumps in capacity.

Across Europe, though, the UK has the greatest number of projects in development. And its spending is almost double any other country (Germany and Italy are next largest). About two-thirds of those projects (64 per cent) are reservoir projects, 26 per cent salt caverns, with the rest made up of aquifers (eight per cent) and LNG hubs (two per cent). Last November, the European Commission called on EU members to carry out risk assessments of their gas supplies, and to ensure they have at least 30 days of supplies available for households and key customers.

The commission wants to see more investment in storage and transmission networks, and greater liberalisation of energy markets allowing “gas from any source to be bought and sold anywhere in the EU, regardless of national boundaries”.

A report by PwC published in 2010 found that liberalisation in several countries had encouraged more participants into the market, and that increased liquidity had created more demand for short-term storage capacity.

Liquid energy

Poland is adopting an alternative approach to gas shortages, constructing a new liquified natural gas (LNG) plant at Swinoujscie, on the Baltic coast. Atkins is working with owners Polskie LNG to oversee its design and construction.

Polish domestic production accounts for 30 per cent of its annual demand and the remainder is provided by Russian imports. Due to open in 2014, the LNG terminal will reduce this reliance on Russian gas. The plant will receive natural gas by sea, increasing Poland’s energy security and reducing the country’s carbon footprint.

According to Steve Novis, managing director of Atkins in Poland: “This is a major investment and it will require precision project management to ensure the concept can be taken through to reality. The facility will be unique in Eastern Europe and, as such, it will be closely watched by other countries in the region.”

UK & Europe,

London’s infrastructure will face a supreme test in 2012 – one that will affect how the Games are viewed for years to come. There will be a 50,000-strong “Games Family” (athletes, support staff, families, officials, sponsors and so on) in attendance, as well as hordes of spectators, many of whom will be in London for the first time and will want to experience the city and its history while enjoying the spectacle of the Games. The challenge is predicting who will go where and deciding where to focus efforts in order to minimise disruption and improve the flow. Getting there and away

Atkins has been involved in some of the modelling and capacity studies that will shape the way people move in 2012. Planners have to calculate how many visitors will attend, how they might get there and where the pressure points might be, and then lay on extra resources or find ways to influence people’s movements in a more favourable direction.

For many visitors, their first port of call is likely to be one of London’s five airports. A modelling study for the Department for Transport (DfT) conducted by Atkins showed that 240,000 extra air passengers will come to the UK during the 31 days of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The greatest spikes will come before the main opening ceremony (40,000 extra) and in the days after the closing ceremony (65,000 extra).

For Mike Pearson, airport development director at Atkins, his worry is that operational problems at the airports could lead the athletes either to miss the opening events or to be left waiting after the Games are over.

“There is a kind of paranoia after what happened in Salt Lake City in 2002,” he says. “The Games themselves were a success but when they were over, there were miles of queues at the airport and people struggled to fly home. This went on for a day and a half because the airport couldn’t cope. Organisers in the UK are understandably concerned about that.”

The study found that London airports could cope with the heightened demand – assuming the weather co-operates, air traffic control runs smoothly and the airlines and airports put aside normal competitive forces in favour of a co-ordinated strategy. In fact, Pearson says getting air operators to co-operate effectively will be an important challenge.

Ideally, the organisers would like to ensure a consistency of service across the five airports, with no one operator benefiting its passengers to the exclusion of another company’s provision.

“They will need to come together to make sure that the Games go off without a hitch,” says Pearson. “Whether they’re an airline or an airport, they are going to have to make it happen.”

Pearson says his team observed Vancouver airport during the recent Winter Games. “It was the last Games before London, so our team went there to observe the airport, find out how it was coping under the pressure, examine its planning, and find out what it got right and what it got wrong,” he says.

The exercise showed the need for staff training to handle big peaks in demand and for airlines to co-operate in order to ensure that all flights were accorded equal resources.

“Take baggage handling as an example,” says Pearson. “One airline may operate the facility but it leases out the space to a multitude of airlines and ground handlers. All of these partners have to work together to make sure that no flights are under-resourced, so that everything is offloaded in time. This means having plenty of people available to handle things like special javelin bags and outsized baggage.”

At the Park

While Pearson’s team is trying to understand how the flow of visitors to the Games will affect the UK’s airports, another Atkins team is trying to model how, and in what numbers, people will visit some of the Olympic and Paralympic venues themselves. In doing so, it is hoping to make recommendations for how resources should be allocated across the network and how many workers the venues will need for things such as security and refreshment.

“We need to know who’s going to be attending, where they’re coming from, how they’re getting there and what time they’re getting there. We need to know what that means in terms of the pressures at the gate entrances and how people are going to flow in there,” says Andrew Hodgson, who is responsible for the Olympic Park demand modelling effort.

To build up a picture, Hodgson’s team commissioned a survey of 10,000 people, asking them which events they were likely to visit. They then analysed where visitors were likely to start their journeys, and whether people would arrive in London on the day or whether they would have stayed in London the night before (or longer). They also made predictions based on how far people had come.

“If someone’s coming from more than, say, two hours away, the likelihood is they’re not going to make the trip on the day. They’re going to stay over night,” Hodgson explains.

“That starts to build up a picture of people’s movements – say, from the north of England to London, or from overseas into London, or from London to the events in Weymouth, and so on.”

After that, the team analysed the methods of travel that visitors might choose and the implications of that choice, how people might access the events and how ticketing would affect behaviour. “One of the questions we asked was how multi-ticketing would alter things. Will someone who goes to watch an event at ExCeL in the morning then go to Greenwich in the afternoon? How many cross-London movements will there be? And, after the events are finished, will they linger?”

Hodgson says relatively small transport choices can have large ramifications. “Right now, for example, we’re thinking about caravans. We know that caravans are a popular choice for many people in The Netherlands and the Dutch are keen to receive a substantial number of tickets for the Games. As a consequence, we have to assume that many people coming from The Netherlands could choose to travel to the UK in this way.

“Caravans require large areas for parking, as well as clearly delineated standing points, toilet facilities and so on. We have to take these factors into account.”

Hodgson’s team also looked to earlier Olympic and Paralympic Games and other major sporting events in London for indicators to help with modelling the 2012 Games. Their usefulness was marginal, however. Though cities such as Sydney and Barcelona faced similar quandaries, they had different transport systems and event layouts to London. Other big events in the UK’s capital city, meanwhile, have involved single sites, rather than a mass of simultaneous events in different parts of the city.

Still, the forecasts are already proving useful and several external organisations are basing decisions on the data. The Department of Health, for example, is using the models to predict which diseases and viruses could be imported to the UK as a consequence of people travelling to the Games. Businesses are drawing up travel plans for their commuting staff. And the Metropolitan Police is looking at how it will allocate its resources.

Hodgson has yet to explore the impact of unforeseen events, however. Contingency planning is scheduled for a later project phase. Everything from a transport breakdown to the media’s treatment of the Games could affect the scenario building, he says. Other variables include the performance of the UK team and the caprices of the British weather.

Out to sea

For Weymouth in Dorset, where the sailing events will take place, Atkins is working on demand modelling. As with the airport and London event studies, a mathematical model has been built allowing it to predict how many visitors will arrive and how to plan the best mix of transport options to limit bottlenecks and disruption.

The tricky aspect to Weymouth, however, is its relatively limited public transport and road network. While London has multiple entry points, Weymouth is on a peninsula with one mid-sized road in and out. The venue must either be served by extensive bus links from “park and ride” sites within a 15-mile radius, or be restricted to limited numbers of ticket-holders.

Anan Allos, who leads the Weymouth project, says the challenge with the Olympic Games is that it is a one-off. While plenty of traffic studies have been conducted for the local neighbourhood, none has taken account of large numbers of press and athletes arriving from all four corners and the unpredictable nature of the local population when the Games arrive on their doorstep.

Getting ready for 2012 is not only about physical infrastructure. Much of the job involves understanding how people will interact with new facilities and how existing systems will hold up under the strain. Behind the scenes, planners are wrestling with a range of knotty logistics problems as they try to make the visitor experience as stress-free as possible and create a legacy for large-scale events of the future.

UK & Europe,

Organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games expect the beach volleyball event to be one of the highlights of the Games, attracting more than 500,000 people during the fortnight and millions more watching on TV.

The fact that it will take place at Horse Guards Parade – and nowhere near a beach – is only one of the challenges.

Horse Guards Parade is a large parade ground that sits just off Whitehall in central London at the heart of HM Government in the UK. Trooping the Colour, the traditional army ceremony organised for the Queen’s official birthday, is taking place there as usual on the first Saturday in June, but six weeks later visitors will discover a 19m high temporary 15,000-seat arena, including two warm-up courts and six practice courts, designed by Atkins and Populous and project-managed by Drivers Jonas Deloitte.

It’s part of the unique approach to the presentation of events at London 2012, taking advantage of some of the city’s most famous landmarks as backdrops for the competition. Nearby St James’s Park, for example, will host training arenas, a broadcast compound, a media centre, a logistics centre, workforce areas and more spectator areas. Similarly, the marathon will pass by Big Ben and Parliament, and the cycling road race will start and finish in front of Buckingham Palace. Preparing these sites for an influx of visitors without creating new permanent structures is one of the more complicated challenges of London 2012.

While the capacity of the Horse Guards Parade arena is 15,000 people at any given time, tickets will be based on sessions (34 of them over 13 days of competition). This means that the total footfall for the event will be up to 510,000. By comparison, the velodrome will see only about 60,000 spectators over the course of London 2012.

Getting to the stage where volleyball players can actually take to the sand is a complex process with countless moving parts. A frantically short timescale, a difficult-to-reach central location, security concerns and the historical significance of the area, which backs on to the home of the British Prime Minister,10 Downing Street, as well as the Ministry of Defence, are only a few of the obstacles.

The plan for the venue includes two main parts: a lower bowl designed as a “theatre in the round” (to create maximum atmosphere around the court); and a three-sided upper bowl that provides views for spectators and cameras across London’s skyline, and sites like Big Ben and the London Eye. The stands reach 62ft (19m) into the air. Unusually for a temporary venue, there are lifts taking spectators to the highest levels. Underneath the sand is a massive steel deck weighing many tonnes to hold everything in check.

Such a large arena – roughly the same size as Wimbledon’s Centre Court – would normally take at least three or four months to complete – perhaps longer. By comparison, other large-scale temporary venues, including the 23,000-seat Greenwich Park arena, which will host the equestrian and modern pentathlon events, and the 30,000-capacity Eton-Dorney centre (rowing and canoeing), will be under construction by mid-April. The Horse Guards site will, though, see smaller, temporary test events in August 2011 to check that everything will work as planned in 2012.

To ensure the arena is finished on time, the plan is to work from 8am until 11pm. If more time is needed, then the planning application allows night-time working as well, providing that it isn’t too noisy.

“There are no extra days in the programme. The only place we can go to find more time is at night,” says Henry Westwood, project engineer at Atkins.

Luckily, noise is not likely to be the sort of problem it would be in other areas of London – although the few affected neighbours are important people. “There are actually not many residences in that area. You are probably a good 100m from the first place someone lives – other than Number 10. [At Buckingham Palace], the Queen is actually one of the closest people,” says Westwood.

Leaving nothing behind

The design for the stadium was created by Populous (the firm of achitects that is also behind the main Olympic stadium) with Atkins providing engineering and technical input – into the structural elements of the site, for example.

Westwood compares the structure to the stands mounted for the British Open golf tournament, although the Horse Guards site is bigger and more lavishly presented. The challenge is to create a sense of permanency from temporary materials – thus realising the environmental advantages of building a stadium that can be substantially reused, while providing something that looks like it belongs in its location. The temporary structure also has to meet the safety standards of a normal large arena.

In addition to the arena itself, the parade ground – which measures 215,000 sq ft, or the equivalent of five football pitches – will also contain spectator areas, warm-up areas, concession stands and toilets, and a mass of cabling, lighting and broadcast equipment.

Since the design was completed, Atkins has successfully submitted the main town planning application to Westminster City Council, together with technical statements covering issues such as lighting, flood risk, noise and disability/inclusion.

Julie Duffus, an environmental consultant with Atkins, submitted the environment statement accompanying the application. She says environmental considerations were vital to the Horse Guards design, in keeping with the green commitments of the Games organisers and Atkins’ own low-carbon philosophy. The project aims to send zero waste to landfill, recycling what cannot be reused or returned to the hire companies.

Part of the commitment of the planning application is to return Horse Guards, St James’s and The Mall to the same condition after the Games as they were in beforehand.

Also as part of the statement, Duffus had to account for carbon emissions from the events, the impact on the cultural heritage (the Parade is Grade I-listed), the ecology, noise and vibration, and socio-economic impact.

Temporary overlay, such as the arena at Horse Guards, will play a key part in achieving all of these goals. Instead of building new material, thereby generating significant emissions and raising questions about how to dispose of that material once London 2012 is complete, temporary overlay represents an elegant solution. Where possible, material was pre-existing and will have a purpose after the Games.

Special sand

The Atkins team is also responsible for supporting London 2012’s procurement – for example, hiring all of the seating and buying in the 4,600 tonnes of sand needed to create the beach itself. The sand is being sourced specially from a British quarry and needs to meet strict competition specifications set by the International Volleyball Federation, which oversees the sport.

Westwood says the sand is “coarse in nature and is designed to drain easily if it rains” (the Olympic competition will continue in all weather). Importing so much sand into the middle of London may seem strange, but in fact it is no different from what has happened at previous Olympics. Even at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where the volleyball took place on Bondi Beach, the existing sand needed to be improved to ensure quality.

Sand isn’t the only concern of course – Atkins also needs to ensure that it liaises with those responsible for the security aspects of the event. The arena bowl will be 20m from Number 10’s back wall. Concession stands and toilets will be even closer. The Cabinet Office, Foreign Office and Scotland Office are within a stone’s throw.

“They are very interested neighbours. For example, we need security clearance for a lot of our contractors and we need to understand if vehicles need to be searched when they come onsite,” Westwood explains. The latter is by no means a minor concern. Approximately 2,300 Heavy Goods Vehicles will need to come into central London to unload equipment and materials as and when they’re required on the site.

At peak, that is 60 vehicles per day, which is equivalent to five per hour during the course of an average 12-hour working cycle. Atkins has to factor in the fact that security checks for each vehicle will add significant time to the process.

“If possible, some works will be conducted out of sight in St James’s Park before Trooping the Colour on 11 June 2011,” says Westwood. “After Trooping the Colour, the focus shifts to constructing the seating bowl on the parade ground, which will need to be built from the inside out towards the road.

“Our proposal is to use The Mall as a large logistics centre for unloading lorries and short-term storage. We can store equipment and materials here only in the short term as you will very quickly run out of space,” he adds. “Just-in-time deliveries will be the key and it may involve an off-site storage area, with deliveries being brought in from there.”

While the preparation work and the events themselves are going on, from mid-June to September, access to Horse Guards Parade and St James’s Park will be restricted to contractors and certain visitors.

The spectators are vital to the atmosphere of the event and are catered for with large TV screens, music between rallies, cheerleaders, many concession stands and entertainments. But the arena has also been designed very much with its TV audience in mind.

“As well as the spectators, millions of people will be watching on television. The broadcast media has a lot of input into the design,” says Westwood.

The Olympic Broadcast Service, the official TV production unit that provides a lion’s share of the pictures, as well as NBC and the BBC, which generate some of their own pictures, have privileged views of the arena and use of the broadcast compound. This unique setting should provide spectators and TV viewers alike with a prime view of Horse Guards as they’ve never seen it before.

Image © Populous

UK & Europe,

Baku’s history is inextricably linked with energy and commerce. A strategically important trading post and former Soviet republic, it also holds the distinction of being the world’s first oil city – at the start of the 20th century, almost half of the world’s oil production originated in Baku.

However, time has taken its toll. Large areas of the city are now in need of regeneration and one such area – the so-called Black City district, in what was once the heart of the oil industry – lies a short distance away from the historic centre of Baku. In June 2007 the Government decreed that a major regeneration programme would be implemented, beginning with this area, the newly named “White City”.

“The Baku masterplan is part of an environmental programme to help the city redefine itself, post-Soviet rule,” says Matt Tribe, the Atkins design director for the White City project. “The development symbolises the ambitions of the new Government of Azerbaijan, its indigenous people and the identity of the country.”

Tribe and the team were tasked with designing a new district almost from scratch. It covers 221ha and will encompass ten districts. “Because it’s such a large site, with 1,000 buildings and a population of up to 70,000, it has to have all the components you would expect of a city,” says Tribe.

Cultural commitment

Of course, building a district from scratch within the heart of an ancient city is not without its difficulties.

“We had a challenge to ensure it was the right next step for the city and that it fitted in well with the evolution of Baku as a place,” Tribe explains. “Ultimately, the project is about the people of Azerbaijan rather than meeting the needs of private developers. This is more about providing the city with some of the missing pieces.”

Under the masterplan, most of the proposed buildings are five to seven storeys, while at the waterfront there are modern buildings affording great vistas across the Caspian Sea.

The plan also incorporates a shopping mall (something of a novelty for Baku since this kind of “all in one” retail approach is new to Azerbaijan) as well as providing civic venues, a convention centre and other public buildings catering to the wider population of the city.

In arriving at the design, the team looked to European cities. Alleyways and courtyards open on to boulevards, while pedestrians are given priority across most of the district. Cars are accommodated, but they don’t dominate.

“It’s very much about extending the city into its next phase, so it has a central business district and it has residential areas and shops,” says Tribe. “It’s akin to developing something similar to European cities such as Barcelona and Paris. Ultimately, it’s trying to achieve a sustainable community where the people of Baku can live, work and play.”

Middle East & Africa,

“Health and safety should have no boundaries,” says Atkins’ chief executive, Keith Clarke. “This is why it is important that we work together to lead on and work with other stakeholders within the industry to improve health and safety standards worldwide.”

For the past year, the Al Ain City Municipality in Abu Dhabi, which administers the inland city of Al Ain and its surrounding areas, has been working with Atkins with exactly this goal in mind. They are setting up a new environment, health and safety (EHS) department to share best practice in the construction sector and enforce new regulations. Atkins is well placed to advise, having been once again awarded a Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) Gold Award in 2010 for excellence in control of health and safety in the workplace.

The creation of the department follows an emirate-wide decree in 2009 that called for the introduction of EHS management systems across several sectors, including health, industry, transport, tourism, food, energy, education, waste and construction. The last of these required urgent attention: according to a report published that same year by the United Arab Emirates University, up to 65 per cent of emergency hospital admittances concerned injuries that were consistent with construction site accidents.

Such a statistic raises the question: how high is health and safety on the agenda in the UAE? While larger, international developers may operate under clearly defined health and safety standards, smaller contractors brought in to handle various aspects of a job may not work in the same way.

Al Ain City Municipality is taking the lead on the construction aspect, sharing its systems and know-how with the Western Region Municipality and Abu Dhabi City Municipality, effectively covering the whole emirate.

Since beginning work on the project in early 2010, Atkins has set up an IT system for registering and reporting companies, creating a set of construction health and safety regulations and guidelines based on the decree, as well as developing a strategy for enforcement. Atkins has also established a website for the department as part of a wider marketing and awareness programme.

The department, which will eventually number about 40 full-time staff, is already 25-strong and includes inspectorate managers, training managers, non-technical trainers, EHS inspectors and general administrators. One of the first tasks is to recruit personnel and provide mentoring, training and support. The project should be complete by the beginning of 2013.

Convincing companies

Atkins’ EHS project manager, Mark Warrington, says the long-term aim is to get organisations to treat issues such as safety as mainstream management responsibilities. In the past, he says, there has been a tendency for health and safety to be treated as a secondary issue (one overseen by “hazard-spotters”, who would go to construction sites alerting workers to dangerous practices). Ideally, EHS should be built into the operation of the site, rather than being treated as an afterthought, he says.

The response from entities (as companies are referred to in the decree) so far has been promising. Up to 270 people, from 100 organisations, attended a launch event last May. Since then, five workshops organised by the Atkins team have been well attended. The department intends to communicate regularly with the construction community as it rolls out the programme. The next stage will be to publish regulations and guidelines on the website, starting in the second quarter. After that, entities will be expected to produce their own procedures and to monitor their implementation against set criteria.

The goal is to establish an “EHS culture” where companies see it’s in their interests to observe high standards, for both financial and moral reasons. The team hopes that can be achieved by propagating information and assisting entities as they develop their procedures. But John Milligan, Atkins’ project director, emphasises that a robust inspectorate will also be necessary to enforce standards once the programme is up and running.

“In an ideal world, contractors, consultants, developers and client organisations observe EHS regulations because they understand the underlying risks to life and the environment. In the real world, this is true only most of the time because of the pressure to deliver buildings and infrastructure to the tightest timetable and lowest cost. What organisations fail to understand is that human suffering affects victims, families and the balance sheet,” he says.

Part of the reason why a safety culture has not taken root until now has been a lack of financial incentive. Companies in many other countries need expensive insurance policies to cover workplace accidents and face escalating premiums should things go wrong. No such policies have been implemented in the UAE, although the costs related to accidents can still be significant. Abdel-Mohsen Onsy, a professor at UAE University who is advising on the project, estimates a fatality can cost as much as a million UAE dirhams (about $USD280,000 or £170,000) when workplace downtime and compensation payments to workers’ families are taken into account.

The new EHS requirements are likely to raise the costs of non-compliance still higher, according to Munjed Maraqa, associate professor of environmental engineering at UAE University. In future, companies will have to establish strong EHS standards, or face the risk of losing business in the emirate.

“I don’t think the entities will have a choice. If they are to work in Abu Dhabi, they will have to start implementing this system. Eventually it could start affecting their business. Entities that do it will have a good reputation in the market and will win better business. And at some point the regulatory authority will work on screening those companies that have not implemented this system,” he says.

Improved safety standards could help to attract expat workers, who are vital for the local construction sector given the high demand for skilled workers in this area and a relatively small skills pool.

Professor Maraqa says: “Let’s assume that the number of accidents falls dramatically in the coming years. For me as an expat worker, if I know that one country has a certain number of accidents and another country has a better record, which country am I going to go to? I would definitely go to the place that respects and understands the need for a better workplace.”

From the ground up

Although the EHS is modelled on international best practice, the scheme departs in several ways from what would be typical in Europe or North America. For example, the EHS system goes beyond safety, also covering areas such as pollution and waste and sustainable development. In the West, environmental and safety performance tend to be overseen by different agencies.

Professor Maraqa says this is because agencies in the West were developed earlier, when issues such as the environment were seen as less important. Combining the two makes sense, he says.

“This is something unique, and it is good because the aspects are interrelated. For example, if there is a lot of dust outside the site, there will be a lot of dust on the site and that could affect the health of the workers.”

Professor Maraqa hopes the system will help to develop better EHS practices beyond Abu Dhabi – perhaps even as far afield as neighbouring countries Saudi Arabia and Oman.

“I can’t see an entity that has worked in Abu Dhabi and developed a good EHS culture suddenly going to Dubai or elsewhere and saying ‘we’re not going to adhere to this’. No, it’s a habitual thing. Once you get it, it will remain with you. Abu Dhabi is doing a favour for many regions by doing this. I think in time other countries will adopt similar systems,” he says.

Milligan and Warrington say Abu Dhabi also needs to develop a system for training and professionalising EHS managers. The department is trying to kick-start the process by encouraging new employees to get internationally recognised EHS qualifications.

At the same time, it is trying to impress on potential recruits that EHS is a noble profession, which can actually improve the lives of many. “There are not many jobs where you come in and get paid for doing something both for the benefit of this country and for the people coming here to work,” says Warrington.

Middle East & Africa,

Climate change has put the engineering profession on the threshold of the biggest fundamental change to our economy and society since the Industrial Revolution: the shift to a low carbon economy. And this shift needs to be substantially underway by 2020 and largely complete by 2050, giving us 40 years to transform the fundamentals of the world’s economies. In engineering terms, this is right now.

The drivers for change are clear and the initial framework for action is in place. Many nations have now signed the Copenhagen Accord, matching this agreement with national regulation to limit CO2 emissions (or external energy supplies). The construction sector is making great progress in understanding the strategic changes that must be made to our infrastructure. We have been refining the idea of Carbon Critical Design for two years or more. But it’s still not enough: the time has come to turn ideas into action.

The first step is to become truly “carbon aware”: to understand where carbon is embedded in the lifecycle of any project and learn how to reduce it as much as possible. While we are still defining the specific engineering components this would involve, we can help create a vision of this new society.

De-carbonising the global economy and ensuring the progressive delivery of a low carbon society require a deep understanding and managing of carbon dioxide. In order to control atmospheric levels of CO2, the world must change its primary fuel source, from the combustion of fossil fuels to electricity generated from zero or ultra-low carbon sources. The consequent, almost universal, electrification of our energy supply will cause a significant re-balancing of the built environment and the need for a new energy infrastructure. There is a growing appreciation that CO2e must become the primary design determinant for new build and retrofit activities alike.

The engineering profession needs to develop and share tools to quantify and identify where savings can be made, be open and communicate with professional colleagues, locally and internationally, and develop different skills and different resources. Members in the built community – from engineers to architects and their extended supply chain – need to reach out, share knowledge, improve the skill base and influence the broadest possible audience.

Role call: tomorrow’s engineer

The role of the engineer will be paramount if progress is to be made. Due to the technical complexity involved, he or she will inevitably be the definer of the problem as well as the provider of the solution. The goal is to:

  • minimise the use of all resources required by all designs;
  • significantly improve the resource efficiency of construction and manufacturing operations;
  • significantly reduce the use of operational carbon; and
  • make carbon-intensive engineering socially unacceptable.

These challenges are deeply serious and the engineering community must make some fundamental changes in professional behaviours. Revolutions are uncomfortable and possibly prolonged. They are iterative and we will all make mistakes.

Our engineering forebears, like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, made the occasional big mistake, but were honest about them and tried to learn from them, pressing on to greater things.

As we continue to develop our understanding of carbon-intensive design, the construction sector can map activity against carbon budgets, prioritise and plan. We must recognise how we can meet the incredibly tight timescales we face: 2020 is around the corner and 2050 is closer than we care to admit. The challenges vary across the continents but many elements of the solutions are common and readily shared.

In short, this revolution must be built on technical innovation. It is not a regulatory challenge. We need to value energy and the way we account for it in a different way, reflecting local conditions and circumstances but also sharing knowledge and information wherever possible. If our society is going to make the transition from fossil based fuels to electricity generated from renewable sources, then we need to create a real vision of what this electrified society will look like.

Time for action

Speed of change is also critical. In the last half-century, it has taken decades for big infrastructure projects to move from concept to delivery – unlike Victorian civil engineers, who exhibited a sense of real urgency. The engineering profession must move faster, not only because the designs we create will form part of the low carbon economy, but also because the building codes and standards must be written along the way. We must go back to first principles in relation to design approaches and think in a low carbon way.

With this urgency in mind, in April 2010 Atkins launched a suite of eight new tools to help clients and partners in a range of industries tackle the challenge more proactively. The result of some 18 months of research and development, the products are a set of generic and market specific decision-support tools, assessing tangible changes that could help businesses take a lead in the low carbon world we want.

One scenario-planning tool, for example – named “Relativity” – can create a series of charts comparing the carbon effects when different approaches are taken. Another, dubbed “Knowledgebase”, can calculate and evaluate the final cost of a low carbon design option drawing on project data previously accumulated.

Others are more specific, however – such as analysing the carbon impacts of trends, including traffic patterns and typical individual travel behaviour, with the aim of using hard data to encourage greater use of alternative transport in the long term.

A further tool, “Buildings”, uses construction, services and occupancy parameters to estimate a building’s overall carbon footprint, while Atkins Remote Technology (ArT) has been designed to help firms understand, and then optimise, their daily energy use across multiple office sites.

As a rule, it should be possible to reduce CO2e usage by 15-20 per cent simply by applying what is already known, but the next 30 per cent will require even further product innovation and investment. Specifically, as a profession, we must:

  • effectively de-carbonise the energy sector (a 75 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, while allowing for major carbon investment in new renewables and the transmission and distribution grid);
  • halve the carbon used to operate commercial buildings while allowing for carbon investment in retrofit and new build;
  • halve the carbon used to operate the transport sector (while allowing for mass electrification, which will also reduce operational emissions);
  • allow for an increase in the use of carbon in the public sector to take account of investment in the infrastructure;
  • halve the carbon used to supply the residential sector (while allowing for carbon investment in retrofit and new build);
  • significantly improve the carbon efficiency of the industrial sector while recognising that we will need to use oil as the base material for many essential products; and
  • significantly improve construction and manufacturing efficiencies to avoid waste generation.

There is an overriding need for engineers to show significant leadership in order to build on the reputation of the profession. A sense of professional pride will be central to delivering these necessary changes. And we must not blame government, clients or the recession. Engineers have to demonstrate what is feasible so that governments and the financial community know where to go.

Brunel Lecture Series 2010: Keith Clarke, ICE Fellow and Atkins chief executive, was invited to become the lecturer for the 2010 ICE International Brunel Lecture Programme, which began in May 2010. This was the eighth lecture in the Brunel series and was delivered to audiences across the globe over the 18 months. The lecture focused on the enormous challenge climate change poses to the modern world, in particular to engineers who must revolutionise the way they plan, design and build vital new infrastructure. The series was established by ICE in 1999 in memory of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

North America, UK & Europe,

“London 2012 is all about legacy. Its greatest legacy will be in the continued regeneration of East London,” says Keith Clarke, Atkins chief executive. “It will be a blossoming, diverse, inclusive new business opportunity for London. The timescale for those new businesses is uncertain – for example, it’s difficult to predict the rate of growth – but the infrastructure is in place and the context set. New and extended transport links will have been tried and tested during the Games, as will any upgrades to local utilities, and the terrain will have been given a much-needed facelift. In terms of removing barriers, you couldn’t really have a better chance.”

Such a verdict may seem optimistic, of course. In many ways, the scenes of jubilation as London dramatically pipped Paris to the post of Olympic glory back in July 2005 seem to belong to a different age. We now live in a world of banking crises, a global recession and a burgeoning debt burden, and a new era of austerity that has been making headlines on a daily basis for the latter half of the decade.

Yet that optimism persists – and in some ways, this is essential. The total budget for London 2012 of some £9.3bn has not been ring-fenced from the new coalition Government’s cost-cutting plans. The initial £6.2bn in public spending savings announced in the weeks following the election included cuts of around £27m from the sporting spectacle itself.

And with people up and down the country bracing themselves for a general tightening of the belt, Olympic authorities are demonstrating both an efficient investment and ensuring return on investment. It’s not just about making Britain proud when London 2012 finally arrives. The event needs to provide a tangible and sustainable lasting legacy for the London of tomorrow – its businesses, environment, biodiversity and local communities.

Promises, promises

Two years after winning the bid, in July 2005, the then Labour Government acknowledged and articulated this aim. It made five legacy promises for the cultural spend. In addition to the aspirational transformation of the country into a world-leading sporting nation, using the project to inspire a generation of young people and boosting the UK’s desirability as a business destination, it specifically pledged to transform London’s East End, the site for the new Olympic Park.

It would also make that Park a model of sustainable living, embracing renewable sources of energy and advanced construction practices that could showcase the long term potential of an increasingly low carbon way of life.

These were ambitious plans and it was essential to monitor delivery as the first signs of the new structures – the Handball Arena and Aquatics Centre – began to materialise. In May 2009, therefore, just after the halfway point between London winning the Games and the eventual arrival of the Olympic torch, the UK Government established the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) to ensure its regeneration promises were properly honoured. It is the first time a host country has had a legacy company in place before the start of the Games.

A few months later, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson added to the momentum. He unveiled his ambition to bridge the socio-economic divide between the five host boroughs – Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest – and the rest of London by 2030.

John Armitt, for one, is confident the country will be pleased with the long term legacy of the Games. The chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) points out that businesses around the country have already benefited from the award of over 1,300 direct ODA contracts as well as thousands of subcontracts through the supply chain, adding that these companies will now be able to take their skills and experiences gained and export them internationally, including for the 2016 Games in Brazil and 2014 Russian Winter Olympics (where some contracts have already been won).

He also estimates that around 75p of every one pound spent in development is on infrastructure that will be around for the long-term in one guise or another.

“There will be continued infrastructure and regeneration of the area for some years to come. We’re building 2,800 apartments for the Games and there are another 6,000 planned to be built afterwards, as well as the inevitable commercial buildings that will go up on site close by,” he explains.

“In addition to the Games themselves, we also have the Cultural Olympiad, which will encourage cultural activities in London and across the country to use the Olympics cache and put something on.”

He does acknowledge the scale of the challenge, however: “There is pressure on everyone to ensure we make the very best of this one-off opportunity and make sure those benefits are long term,” he says.

Building a legacy

The apartments Armitt spotlights are part of the Olympic Village, where the first residential block was completed in October 2009. The majority of the rest are due to be finished in 2010, alongside all the necessary utilities and supporting infrastructure such as tunnels and bridges.

After the Games, however, those apartments for around 17,000 athletes will become essential new housing for East London, including 1,380 “affordable homes” according to the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s annual report in February 2010. One of the OPLC’s stated six goals is to ensure that this housing “offers an incomparable lifestyle by blending the best of London’s housing traditions with unique access to nature and sporting facilities”.

Moreover, the construction activity has also already provided a welcome boost to employment in the area; an essential factor for the economic growth needed for true sustainable regeneration. Over 9,000 people were employed on the Olympic Park and Olympic Village sites at the close of 2009, with 21 per cent of the workforce resident in one of the host boroughs that are intended to benefit the most. Over 10 per cent of the workforce in the Olympic Park had previously been unemployed, against a target of seven per cent.

“It’s important to remember that there is a brilliant service sector opportunity here,” says Heather Hancock, 2012 lead partner at Deloitte, the business advisory firm and the official professional services provider for the Games and supporting the OPLC.

“From the architects and the development managers delivering facilities to the businesses supporting transport systems and the whole creative sector, the excellence of the UK’s services and advisory sector is also being showcased.

“Given the economic situation, we see the Games really powering up business and wider society, giving the country a positive focus to rally around that will also enhance confidence and commitment,” she adds.

Indeed, Deloitte published a report in February 2010, coinciding with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, detailing how such major sporting events can serve as a catalyst for improving national competitiveness. Among those positives, it identifies the breaking down of barriers between the private and public sectors and within government, and establishing new models of industry best practice, such as in environmental sustainability and community involvement.

In Canada, for example, organisers asked visitors to the Games to buy carbon offsets to make up the estimated 268,000-ton total carbon footprint that includes travel emissions. The UK is also looking to offset. In November last year, Her Majesty the Queen planted the first of 4,000 trees to appear in the Olympic Park before the Games.

Safe and sound

Another area the report singles out is the investment in security arrangements that such an ambitious project inevitably spurs. Few could forget that just a day after learning of its Olympic bid win in 2005 London was subjected to a devastating terrorist attack on its Underground network.

“A critical role for the Government is keeping people safe,” says Deloitte global public sector industry leader Greg Pellegrino. “With time, money and effort, overall security can have a positive and lasting impact on the athletes, spectators, international organisations, and the host itself long after the event finishes.”

The UK Government has now endorsed an overall “Safety and Security National Concept of Operations”, which is a detailed account of how security will be managed before and during the Games. The new coalition may be committed to scrapping ID cards, but the brainpower behind staging the Olympics is sure to be useful in London’s future security strategies.

Then there is the public transport network itself, expected to swell to approximately 800,000 people on the busiest day of the event. Some 25,000 of them can be transported to and from Stratford International Station every hour on the new Javelin train, which is already running, while extra capacity on the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) will ease congestion across the capital for the long term.

Similarly, the work that has gone into building a resilient communications architecture could provide a readymade infrastructure for businesses coming into the area after the Games. Duncan Ingram, who looks after BT’s London 2012 activity, cites the technology employed in the new media centre as an example.

“We’re very keen to work with the legacy bodies to look for other opportunities for the technology we have put in, and interact with the organisations who are part of that in the early stages. We want to make sure that the technology we’re putting in has an ongoing use beyond 2012, providing an economic benefit and positive legacy. After the Games, we want this to become an important part of the BT story.”

Ingram highlights the fact that the boroughs around the Olympic Park will have “superfast broadband by 2012” – giving further support to an enduring economic legacy.

But Clarke believes another long-term legacy benefit from 2012 will go beyond the physical infrastructure: the greater collaboration between contractors, consultants and the authorities, based on trust that has been built up over the last four years.

“The networks, relationships and the informal and formal collaborations that have been established during the Games can only be of huge value in the long run,” he says. “There’s definitely more collaboration and I think there is a recognition that people are looking to work in a different way.

“And whether you’re from a utility or an equipment supplier, a services provider or a construction contractor, this ability to collaborate on some of the most complicated, time-critical infrastructure programmes almost anywhere in the world is hugely exportable. We are attracting people with our can-do attitude and exporting that mentality to the broader world – and that’s very important.”

All those involved in London 2012 will have other lessons to note from a uniquely ambitious endeavour.

Correctly calibrated, these lessons could lead to even more UK assets in future – and hopefully underpin a strong and diverse economic recovery.

UK & Europe,

In recent years, the country has developed a reputation for value holidays among Europeans looking for a bargain, from skiing in winter to bathing by the Black Sea in summer. The economic downturn hit visitor numbers in 2009, but the Bulgarian Government expects a strategy of decisive diversification into cultural tourism will improve revenues for the sector from 2.6bn in 2008 to some 7.9bn by 2010.

When Atkins was asked to create a modern mixed-use facility in this changing environment, everyone knew it would be a challenge: how do you strike the right balance between the 19th century grandeur of the cathedral and an emerging 21st century economy looking for opportunity to grow? Creating any major new structure in this context, something that would sit comfortably and confidently with this as a backdrop, was going to require careful planning and construction.

Inspired by the cathedral’s historic arches, the modern Capital Fort development created by Atkins will play a part in Sofia’s expected economic surge – its 135m high-rise tower of office space will become a new landmark for those driving into the city or even touching down at the international airport. The accompanying “L” shaped low-rise office building sits astride a podium proffering a wide range of retail and conference facilities, all accessed via a grand atrium. On completion, Capital Fort is set to be the tallest building not just in Bulgaria, but in all the Balkans.

UK & Europe,

Energy has rarely been so central to public debate as it has in the last few years. Climate change, energy security and the need to find new energy sources have all served to focus the minds of policy-makers, energy experts and the general public.

The big question is how to find a “mix” of future sources that solves what Martin Grant, managing director of the Atkins energy business, says has come to be known as the “trilemma” of energy policy: how to square the demands for clean, secure and affordable power.

“We need to generate electricity with minimal climate impact, that is secure and affordable,” Grant says. “These three things all have to feed into the equation. Preventing climate change for an infinite price is not an option. Nor is producing energy without regard to the environmental consequences.”

As a result, energy policy needs to be judged first and foremost in light of its impact on carbon reduction commitments. While not formally adopted, the Copenhagen Accord still reflects a large degree of consensus on the need for deep cuts in CO2 emissions and therefore most developed countries have committed to stretching targets.

Second, energy sources have to be secure. For example, recurring disputes between Russia and its neighbours over oil and natural gas export tariffs have a knock-on effect on European supplies. Others point to instability in some parts of the Middle East, both for oil and natural gas imports. Ideally, energy should be home-produced, come from “reliable” countries or else be diversified across a range of sources and technologies.

In the UK and some other developed nations, we have another important factor to take into account: an ageing electricity generation fleet. According to the UK Government’s own estimate, up to 20 gigawatts (GW) of the current 75GW of capacity could be out of commission by 2020. E.ON, the German electricity producer, says it could be worse than that: up to 26GW might be lost by 2015.

Depending on the energy demand – which tends to rise and fall with the economy – the UK could start having shortages by 2016, according to the energy consultants Pöyry.

“First and foremost, more attention must be paid to counteract increases in energy demand,” argues Louise Kingham, CEO of the Energy Institute, the professional body for the energy industries worldwide, based in the UK. “Energy efficiency is increasingly seen as the most important action, in terms of what can be realistically achieved in the timescale required to reduce carbon emissions. It is the biggest way in which individuals and organisations can play an active role in tackling the energy challenges. And it can have an immediate effect both on CO2 emissions and the bottom line.”

A more positive light

As it happens, the UK’s “trilemma” may not be quite as intractable as it is in other countries. For one thing, it has several plausible sources of renewable energy – particularly offshore wind. For another, it has a level of expertise and experience in nuclear, which is likely to be a significant part of the UK’s future portfolio.

Much of the new energy planning currently revolves around renewables, particularly offshore wind. Such projects have been multiplying and expanding over the last decade. The third phase of schemes, approved by the last Government in January 2010, foresees nine new zones allocated for wind farm development around the coastline and an estimated capacity of 25GW. At the time, Gordon Brown forecast Round Three could cost up to £75bn and create as many as 70,000 jobs by 2020. (In all, Ofgem says the UK could have to spend £200bn transforming its energy supplies over the next 10 to 15 years.)

Round Three comes on top of the 1,000MW capacity of the offshore turbines already installed around the UK, the 1.2GW under construction and the 3.5GW in the planning process. If it all goes ahead, the UK will become by far the largest offshore wind producer in Europe. Worldwide, only China is likely to have a bigger offshore wind network by the end of the decade.

The advantage of wind energy is that it is clean, secure and infinite. Moreover, offshore wind does not tend to run into the same planning and regulatory obstacles as onshore wind or conventional power station developments.

Carmelo Scalone, executive director for business initiatives at Portugal’s EDP Renewables, says the UK in particular has done a good job addressing the energy challenge and attracting investment to its wind industry. EDP Renewables is currently leading a wind farm project off the coast of Scotland.

“The UK’s situation is similar to that in other countries in many respects,” he says. “Throughout Europe, the demand for energy is increasing while the portfolio of energy generating facilities is ageing, in general. There is a need for these facilities to be upgraded or replaced, or to rethink the whole energy mix. In addition, more or less every country supports the idea of renewables as part of that mix.

“However, I think the UK is leading Europe when it comes to the offshore wind industry. It has taken the right approach. For example, the UK Government, Crown Estate, Ofgem and National Grid have all helped make the wind industry credible, so that people who did not consider an investment in the UK before could see that there was a lot of upside.”

Grant also praises the way in which the Government has boosted offshore wind, by offering attractive fiscal enhancements (called the Renewable Obligation Certificate scheme), which supplements the price operators get for the energy they supply.

The scale of the offshore undertaking is staggering, however, and there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. For one thing, the latest turbines are gigantic, measuring up to 175m according to some designs (by comparison, London’s famous “Gherkin” building comes in at 180m). Simply erecting these towers is a major task. Moreover, there is currently a shortage of turbine producers and a lack of vessels capable of hauling the structures out to sea.

“The amount of hardware put in place will be of the same order as the oil and gas industry put in place in the North Sea over the last 30 years,” says Grant. “You are talking about doing a whole North Sea all over again. This is not something in the margins. It is absolutely game-changing.”

Grant estimates that the projects could eventually account for over 30 per cent of the UK’s electricity capacity. One reason he is confident it can be done is the experience the UK has in working in tough conditions at sea.

“We’re in an unbelievably fortunate position that we’ve got this natural resource around us, and that we’ve got a skill base that’s been developed in offshore oil and gas. It’s a great opportunity for the UK – and for Atkins – because we’ve got a lot of experience in that area. Our hope is that we can then export that expertise, again in much the same way as the UK oil & gas industry,” he says.

The nuclear elephant

Wind power’s great drawback, however, is its intermittency. It is available only when the weather permits. Grid managers have to hope that the wind blows when it is needed – ideally during peak periods. If not, there are currently few economically viable ways to store large amounts of wind-generated electricity (though some new technologies are now being developed).

David Parkin, renewables manager at Atkins, says there needs to be a focus on how inland infrastructure can be updated in order to accommodate all of the power generated offshore.

“I think there is still a lot of work to be done around planning for the supplementary infrastructure. We simply cannot use the anticipated level of intermittent electricity unless we fundamentally change our energy storage infrastructure. The thinking about that is nowhere near as advanced as for generation itself,” he says.

For this reason and others, many experts see a need for a “baseload” of more traditional generating capacity – chiefly, nuclear energy.

Nuclear has the advantage of being “cleaner” than fossil fuel-based generation and the raw materials required are available from relatively friendly countries. This has led to what has become known around the globe as the nuclear renaissance. A large number of countries have announced nuclear new build programmes. China has embarked on a six-fold increase in nuclear capacity to 50GW. India aims to add 20 to 30 new reactors. In the UK, companies such as EDF and others have committed to building up to 16GW of nuclear generating capacity.

“We’re never going to have 100 per cent renewable energy. You can’t cope with the intermittency issue. The most you could have is 70 or 80 per cent renewables and then have a baseload of something else,” says Parkin. “If you wanted to be completely self-sufficient, you could look to ‘clean coal’, but that still has some technology challenges. Your best bet is to rely on an external supply of nuclear fuel, which is a relatively reliable market.”

This raises the prospect of an energy mix dominated by renewables and nuclear, but this in itself would be problematic. Wind is intermittent and nuclear works best when delivering at a steady pace. Something else is needed to deal with short-term peaks in demand, such as a million kettles being switched on at half time in an important televised football fixture. At the moment gas fired power stations are the answer to this need. It seems clear that a diverse energy mix is the way forward.

Two other ways to partially mitigate the intermittency problem, and improve the flexibility of the energy system, would be to modernise the power grid and improve links between countries. The idea of a “smart grid” is to have a more transparent and responsive distribution system where both producers and consumers have access to detailed information about usage and pricing at different points and times. This would help everyone make better decisions about when to consume (householders could choose when to power their washing machines based on price) and when extra resources might be needed.

A smart grid might also involve using electric vehicles for large-scale energy storage. Potentially, large numbers of car batteries could offer an effective storage method for electricity produced from intermittent renewable sources.

Such an arrangement would require a level of on-high co-ordination, though: “Having electric cars in every driveway being charged overnight when the wind is blowing is a great idea. But to work, it still needs a major investment. I don’t see that happening at the moment,” says Parkin. He believes the idea of grid expansion – to pool resources between EU neighbours – is more realistic at the moment.

“A European-wide grid means that wherever the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, you can generate from that bit of Europe and transmit your power wherever else it is required. We’re starting to see interconnectors being built up, for instance between Ireland and the UK, and France and Belgium and the UK. But we need to be doing more,” he says.

More ambitiously, there is continued speculation about the feasibility of generating vast quantities of electricity from solar plants in equatorial countries and transmitting this to areas of high need such as northern Europe. Such a scheme would however require massive investment and co-operation between countries.

More power needed

Though the UK’s currently planned investments in offshore wind and nuclear are sizeable, and potentially transformative, they may not yet meet expected demands.

“In the climate-changed world, we will need more electricity, not less, because we will decarbonise some sectors by using electricity – transport, for example,” says Samuel Fankhauser, principal fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics and a member of the Government’s Committee on Climate Change.

Fankhauser says that initiatives to improve energy efficiency are likely to bring down demand between 2010 and 2020 – but that the appetite for electricity will pick up after that. “After 2020-25, the electrification of the transport fleet is likely to overwhelm the savings we have made in the next decade,” he says.

Parkin says the extra need could be fairly dramatic: “At the moment, our energy use is split roughly one-third electricity, one-third transport, one-third heat. If you turn all our transportation electric, you double the amount of electricity you need. And if you make a wholesale switch to ground source heat pumps for household heating, then you’re effectively tripling the electricity needed in the UK.”

After wind power, nuclear energy and improving the grid, there are several other more distant possibilities for the future energy mix. One is carbon capture and storage (CCS) where large quantities of CO2, from fossil fuel-based plants, are captured and sequestered underground.

Fankhauser says CCS has potential, but notes the technology is still in its infancy. More to the point, it may not be ready when we need it.

“Nobody knows if it’s going to work or not. The question is whether we will get the pilots on the ground in time. We are being very slow about it, but we can probably still make it work. If you work back from when the investment decisions will need to have been made, we will probably need to know if CCS is working by 2020, or ideally a couple of years earlier. This means you need pilot results five or six years from now. We don’t have any time to lose,” he says.

“The UK Government appears to support the development of CCS technology, which some see as vital to the move towards a low carbon economy,” adds Kingham. “The role of Government is to put in place the incentives and stimulus for take up of low carbon technologies, so that the demand for low carbon skills grows as well as being financially supported. Coming out of a tough economic climate may make this more of a challenge, but also offers big opportunities going forward. The Committee on Climate Change recommended an energy market review, which is taking place currently, where changes to stimulate low carbon investment will be desirable.”

Tidal and wave power are other possibilities. The Government, for example, continues to explore the idea for a “barrage” across various parts of the Severn Estuary. By some estimates, depending on the scheme, this could generate up to five per cent of the UK’s electricity needs. One great advantage of the barrage is that it would be a predictable source of power and relatively long-lasting – up to 120 years, compared to the normal lifecycle of a nuclear plant of 30 to 40 years.

It would, however, be a fantastic engineering feat – and therefore expensive. It would also face vigorous opposition from local groups fearing the effect on wildlife and scenery. (Atkins’ work on the barrage includes a feasibility study for an alternative “tidal reef” design, on behalf of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.)

If it does ever come to fruition (the idea was first discussed in the mid-19th century), the barrage is not likely to be ready in time for when the current stock of generating capacity runs its course.

In fact, experts agree that the diciest phase for the UK’s energy planners is likely to occur in the next decade – when a range of power plants are due to be shut down and new resources, including nuclear and offshore, have not yet been put into action.

Grant and Fankhauser say there could, therefore, be a need for gas-fired power stations, which are quicker to build than nuclear, as a stop-gap measure.

“The tricky period will be towards the end of the decade, when some power stations will have been decommissioned, and some of the big new chunks will not have come on-line,” says Fankhauser. “But there is always the gas back-stop. People think they can replace a lot of extra capacity at fairly short notice by building gas power stations. The issue is then whether you can make that compatible with decarbonisation. Gas is twice as clean as coal, but you will probably need to introduce CCS for gas as well.”

Otherwise, operators will have to learn how to keep existing stations open for longer than they were designed for.

“I think we’re going to want to have old facilities going for longer than we expected. That will mean life extension safety cases for nuclear stations and finding a way around legislation such as the Large Combustion Plant Directive for thermal stations. At the end of the day, though, if there’s a supply problem, it’s going to be very difficult to start shutting facilities down. There’s going to be a huge effort to keep things running a bit longer until the new equipment is in,” says Grant.

Either way, the experts are optimistic that the UK can eventually transform its system.

“I think it will happen, maybe in a British sort of way, by the skin of our teeth,” says Fankhauser. “The good news is that policy-makers and the whole of industry is very well aware of what’s happening, and we are 10 to 12 years ahead of the crunch time. We don’t have all that much time to waste as a new power station takes six or seven years to build. But we can probably still get there.”

“Industry believes that the technologies and solutions to move to a low carbon future are already known,” adds Kingham. “The sticking point is political will and consumer understanding, combined with the economies of scale to develop the technologies at an affordable price for all.

“For example, it is believed that by 2020, 70 per cent of primary energy in the UK will still come from oil and gas, with 20 per cent coming from renewables. Therefore, the priority for many is to manage carbon emissions through the development and implementation of CCS technology. This will enable the continued use of fossil fuel as a source of energy alongside the development of alternative, low carbon sources of energy, in order to reduce emissions in the longer term.”

“This is an energy system in transition,” she concludes. “By its very nature, it is evolving to meet new challenges and demands under exacting market conditions. There are undoubtedly many transitional and distributional effects that we have not yet worked through but we will find our way.”

Asia Pacific, North America, UK & Europe,

“One of the main drivers for most transport projects in Sweden is the environment,” says Paul Hollingsworth, director of the Atkins rail consulting business. “Arlanda Airport, north of Stockholm, is reaching its peak capacity and, by default, this is an environmental issue – there’s pressure to expand, but not at the expense of the environment.”

Arlanda is the largest airport in Sweden, handling over 16 million passengers in 2009 – even with the economic downturn – and on track to do the same again in 2010. It has three runways, four passenger terminals and like every airport serving a major metropolitan area, it is faced with the ongoing challenge of meeting the growing travel demands of the local population.

Over the years, the airport has made efforts to limit its impact on the environment, from using biofuels for heating and water from a nearby lake for cooling purposes to charging airlines take-off fees based on the environmental performance of the aircraft. However, based nearly 40km north of Stockholm, the airport could not ignore the impact caused by passengers moving to and from the airport every day.

“Arlanda is the airport you’re mostly likely to use when you come to or fly out of Stockholm,” says Per Thorstenson, CEO of A-Train AB, owners and operators of Arlanda Express, a high-speed rail service that offers a direct link between the airport and Stockholm. “Arlanda Airport is state-owned and has been running for nearly 45 years, albeit to varying degrees of capacity. There was always a desire to run some kind of a train shuttle between Stockholm city and the airport, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the government finally decided to make this happen.

“The decision to introduce an express rail shuttle was taken at the same time as the airport was given permission to build a third runway and increase landing capacity. At the time, it was believed that the train shuttle would help reduce CO2 emissions on the ground as people shifted from the motorways to the train. To some extent, this would mitigate the environmental impact of the airport’s growth.”

“It was an interesting commercial response to growing legislation and regulation,” says Hollingsworth. “If it could be demonstrated that increased electric train use would cut down on the number of carbon-emitting coaches, taxis and cars on the roads, then the advantage would be two-fold.

“The first would be to the airport, giving it more capacity in terms of the number of passengers the service could bring to the airport, and then to Arlanda Express itself in terms of patronage.”

On paper, it seemed an interesting and relatively straightforward strategy, and yet its success didn’t arise quite the way some had expected – which is where the learning curve really began.

What works, what doesn’t

Atkins was originally engaged to conduct due diligence by the bank acquiring A-Train AB and its Arlanda Express. The relationship has continued over the years with the various lending bodies that have come on board.

“We review the books every six months – railway operation, capital costs, management, safety, infrastructure,” says Hollingsworth. “We then report all of this information to the current syndicate of lenders.

“We don’t just make the report and walk away, we try to help if there’s a problem. And, when a major change occurs, we assess the impact of that on the service. For example, if someone else wanted to run a service over the line, would it interfere with working patterns? Would that interfere with the potential for Arlanda Express in the future? When it comes to encouraging more people to the service, we’re very interested, as are the people funding the service.”

“We asked passengers early on why they decided to use the Arlanda Express,” says Thorstenson.“When asked, on an individual basis, their reasons for choosing the service, most passengers pointed to speed and reliability and punctuality, ahead of the environmental issue.

“At the same time, it’s very common for Swedish companies to have quite specific travel policies, especially in larger organisations. And many Swedish companies have an environmental aspect written into their travel policy, so that, while individuals may not be entirely focused on the environment, many companies specify the travel options available to employees.”

As such, Arlanda Express enjoyed success in some quarters, but found that getting individuals to change their transport habits involved more than creating an express rail service with solid environmental credentials. The fact that the service produces fewer emissions – and as such is generally less damaging to the environment – makes a difference, but this doesn’t necessarily drive people from their cars and onto the Express.

“We discovered that the commercial and the environmental sides of things are overlapping enormously right now,” explains Thorstenson. “This can have a major impact on the success or failure of a service like ours.

“For example, the Arlanda Express train shuttle was launched around the same time as the Flytoget Airport Express Train in Oslo, which offers a very similar service. The Flytoget service became a success faster than Arlanda Express, but why? Are the Norwegians more environmentally conscious than the Swedes? No – their operations had more passengers and bigger market share because they had opened a new airport. And when you travel to and from a new airport, you consider the various travel options with a more open mind.

“When you launch this type of an operation at an airport that has been running for a very long time, as was the case with Arlanda Express, you have to change some very fundamental habits,” says Thorstenson. “It’s always more difficult to achieve maximum market share at an old airport. This was not fully understood when Arlanda Express was launched. Many people believed the service would reach maximum market share faster than it actually did, but people had grown accustomed to taxis or buses or private cars. Getting them to make the shift to rail required more of an effort.”

Getting the message

Part of the challenge with this degree of model for the page shift – from one form of transportation to another – is that the service itself was not the only player. There were commercial considerations involved for the airport itself.

“There can be a bit of reluctance on the part of airports to promote these kinds of services, because airports themselves earn substantial sums from car parks,” says Hollingsworth. “If you introduce an airport express rail service, car parking revenue tends to goes down. That can be a major hurdle to overcome.

“Having said that, if you provide a high quality service to a sufficient number of people, they tend to vote with their boots and go by train. And when transport planners do their job – conducting preference surveys and assessing the ideal end points for such a service – you can find the answer you’re looking for.”

According to Thorstenson, the team behind the Arlanda Express learned fairly quickly that they needed to work closely with everyone in the travel supply chain, in order to encourage and retain this level of model shift across the board.

“Historically, flying has not been the most environmentally friendly option, though things are being done within the industry to address this fact,” he says. “Newer, more energy-efficient planes are being brought into service and flown in more efficient ways. But the industry needs to take responsibility for the ground transportation aspect of the journey, before the wheels even touch the ground at Heathrow or Arlanda or wherever. If an airline and an airport promote an environmentally-friendly ground transport option, that can make a real difference.”

Thorstenson cites the example of Heathrow – “one of the best airports in the world in terms of getting people from the airplane to the Heathrow Express rail service,” he says.

“Passengers leave the airplane, collect their bags, walk through customs and find themselves at the Heathrow Express,” he says. “You won’t always see this kind of effort being made to promote the service at other airports around the world where there’s a train shuttle. This was the situation in Stockholm for many years – the Arlanda Express was not promoted as much as it should have been because it was effectively in competition with car parks. Today, this is not a problem, but airports need to take more responsibility at an earlier stage.”

It’s a question of recognising the environmental impact of an entire journey, not just elements of that journey.

“If you plan to fly to Stockholm, a battle is fought over what mode of transportation you decide to use before and after the flight – though you probably wouldn’t realise it was happening,” says Thorstenson. “If you choose to book your flight online, you might decide to book the hotel along with your tickets, as well as your transport from the airport to that hotel. If there is an easy way to buy Arlanda Express tickets on the site, then that is an opportunity to win over a customer. And if you do buy that ticket, you’re not likely to change your mind when you arrive in Stockholm and jump into a taxi instead.

“On the other hand, if you don’t commit to any transport in particular, deciding instead to wait until you arrive, that’s the second front. It begins as soon as you arrive at Arlanda Airport – how are you going to get to downtown Stockholm? Suddenly, simple things like signs take on tremendous importance. Often, you only start to think about your next move as you’re waiting for your bags to arrive. If the express rail service is not clear and evident, you’re not necessarily going to look for a train shuttle.”

It’s not just a matter of clear signs and a commitment from the airlines that will make the difference. It’s all part of a bigger commitment to a low carbon future. And Thorstenson points out that, sometimes, it requires fairly sweeping changes in order to get people to make the change.

“For example, look at the environmental fee approach, such as was introduced in Stockholm and London – though it is known as a ‘congestion charge’ in the UK. This is a big statement of intent on the part of local governments,” he says. “These have changed people’s travelling habits quite profoundly. And there are plans to implement a similar environmental fee to enter the area surrounding Arlanda Airport with a car. This will prompt even more people to take a more environmentally-friendly form of travel.”

Is that kind of impetus the most effective, as opposed to relying on private enterprise to come up with the answers?

“I believe that having a business case for taking an environmentally conscious approach is essential and will become even more important in years to come,” says Thorstenson. “The long term plan for both the airport and the Swedish Government is to get the millions of people who currently drive to Arlanda not only to use the Arlanda Express, but to use more trains in general. For the Government, this move is intended to reduce CO2 emissions. But for the public, factors like convenience and value for money are just as important.

“Ten years from now, the environmentally conscious approach will be just as important, if not more so,” he says. “I hope that the lessons we’re learning on Arlanda Express will inform other similar efforts in future.”

UK & Europe,

Covering more than 100 hectares of formerly derelict industrial land, London’s new Olympic Park for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games is one of Europe’s biggest-ever urban greening projects. Rivers and wetlands are at the heart of the vision for the new park, which lies in east London’s Lower Lea Valley. The landscape that’s now emerging will provide a backdrop for the main action of the 2012 Games.

As river edge and wetland engineers for the project, Atkins is playing a critical role in turning the vision into reality. Atkins’ remit includes design of the soft river edges and wetlands, including riverbank restoration and bioengineering.

The transformation is unprecedented. More than 8km of riverbanks are being restored as part of the project; in tandem with this, two hectares of reed beds and ponds are being created, along with 9,000 square metres of rare wet woodland.

The masterplan for the park is the brainchild of two companies, LDA Design and landscape architects Hargreaves Associates.

“Rivers are generally neglected in our urban areas, but the great thing about them is that they bring activity and life into an area,” says David Thompson, director of Oxford-based LDA Design.

“The challenge from a landscape point of view is about getting people both visual and physical access down to the river. This was the main change that the design team brought into the project – to actually make the rivers more accessible and more open, and therefore the centrepiece of the park,” says Thompson.

Mike Vaughan heads Atkins’ multidisciplinary design team, which includes river engineers, geomorphologists and ecologists: “The idea is to open up the river corridor by making the steep slopes that line the river flatter,” he explains. “By dropping the slopes, we’ve brought the river into the park and made it much more accessible – people can get close to the river and see what’s going on there.”

Getting the riverbank geometry just right was a delicate balancing act. Too steep, and the banks would need costly artificial reinforcement; too shallow, and they would start to eat into valuable space on the site. An optimum slope of 1 in 2.5 – about 22 degrees – was chosen.

Today, with the new landscape rapidly taking shape, it’s easy to forget that one of the Lea Valley’s best-known landmarks, until recently, was the notorious Hackney fridge mountain. And until the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) took possession of the site in 2006, many of the river channels that criss-cross the site were clogged with invasive weeds, along with the predictable detritus of urban decay: abandoned shopping trolleys and car tyres.

The Lea Valley’s neglected river network wasn’t only an eyesore, but also an obstacle – a gulf separating Hackney and Tower Hamlets in the west from Waltham Forest and Newham in the east.

“Before we started work on the site, there were really only three crossings,” says John Hopkins, ODA project sponsor, Parklands and Public Realm. “But we’ll be leaving behind more than 30 bridge connections across the Lea Valley and Lea Navigation.” These new crossings will be vital not only during the Games, but also after 2012: they’re an integral part of the legacy solution, stitching the new Park and its waterways into the wider fabric of east London.

Bringing habitats back to life

Making the most of the site’s rivers and natural features to create sustainable habitats is a key part of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s vision for the Olympic Park. But the process of transforming the Park’s rivers from weed and rubbish infested gulches into pristine watercourses has been long and tough.

For Atkins, that process started with developing an intimate understanding of the labyrinth of waterways and channels that wend their way through the site. Flows and velocities were measured at different points over a period of time, with data used to construct a detailed hydraulic model to predict flood risk. That’s of critical importance, because Atkins has responsibility for everything below the four metres AOD (above ordnance datum) contour on the site.

The modelling exercise was made considerably more complicated by the impoundment of the river system during the course of 2008; in effect, this eliminated the direct tidal influence of the Thames. But its indirect influence is still felt.

“When the tide comes in on the Thames, it stops water flowing out of the river Lea,” explains Vaughan. “So the river levels fluctuate by 400mm a day.”

Atkins’ modelling calculations correctly predicted this phenomenon, and also the increased risk of flooding.

“These discoveries led to some changes in the landscaping profile,” says Vaughan. “The riverside paths have been raise