Janet Miller

UK & Europe

Janet is a Sector Director for Cities and Development, part of the Senior Leadership Team for Atkins' UK division of Water, Ground and Environment. She leads on setting the strategy, business development, providing multi-disciplinary projects involving masterplanning, planning, landscape and urban design, and cities related environment and infrastructure for developer and public sector clients in the UK and overseas. She also leads on key initiatives such as Future Proofing Cities, liaising closely with other parts of the Atkins business as well as the director for Innovation and Futures.

Janet is also the Director for Heritage, being an archaeologist by profession, and enjoys leading or getting involved in projects related to conservation, world heritage, heritage-led regeneration, visitor interpretation, tourism and heritage research commissions. 

Janet is also the lead director for technical excellence in Atkins’ Environmental Planning market.

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The Global Liveability report ranks cities by weighting scores from five categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. The top scoring cities share some common themes: they are located within wealthy countries, they are mid-sized and with fairly low population densities, in some cases as little as 3.1 people per kilometre. It seems that size and density present challenges for liveability.

Large cities such as London can offer fantastic culture, healthcare and world class education. But clearly high population density does put a significant strain on infrastructure, with residents and visitors having to live with the implications – crowded and expensive trains, congested roads and unaffordable homes in the centre of London. In fact, perhaps regular commuters in and out of London wouldn’t have been surprised at all to hear the city didn’t make it into the top 50.

With Oxford Economics predicting London’s population will reach 12 million by 2050, 0.7 million more than currently predicted by the GLA and planned for within the London Infrastructure Plan 2050, our infrastructure woes may worsen and we need to act urgently.

Our Atkins’ Future Proofing London report proposes several bold solutions. First, we need to improve the effectiveness of investment in infrastructure to deliver greater economic, social and environmental benefits. London needs to be planned for the benefit of all Londoners and infrastructure –which is about homes, hospitals, and schools, as well as roads, rail and utilities. Second, a major strategic programme is needed to revitalise outer London. This will help tackle the housing crisis and imbalance in London’s economy. A strategic approach to green infrastructure is also vital for a liveable city and a healthy population. London is known for its green and open spaces, and we can’t put these at risk as we build more infrastructure to accommodate the growing population. We also suggest a new approach to the capital’s major development areas, to ensure they are sustainable and flexible to meet the changing needs of communities and businesses.

As engineers and planners we need to work closely with government and developers to create and realise the plans we know are needed and do so quickly. London’s economy is resilient and is clearly still thriving during this time of overburdened infrastructure. But it is the people that make a city and we should aspire to create a capital that’s large, diverse and economically strong, while also a world class place to work, live and play. Let’s rise to the challenge of adapting our infrastructure to not just cope but enhance our lifestyles and make big city living enjoyable rather than stressful.

Read our Future Proofing London Report here.

UK & Europe,

With the city’s mayoral election just a few weeks away, the future leader of London is at a critical point in their campaign – now is the time when a clear vision for the future, and a firm grasp on the risks that threaten that vision, make all the difference.

On 4 April, Atkins partnered with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) for its infrastructure hustings with the London Mayoral candidates and over 350 people from across the industry. While the event had been planned for months, the morning of the debate we found out that Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) and Sadiq Khan (Labour) – front runners in the election campaign – had both pulled out of the evening’s debate, which set out to cover a range of topics including housing, transport, airport capacity, skills, climate change and a number of other infrastructure issues.

Interestingly, each prospective candidate sent along a strong and well informed woman to tackle some of the industry’s biggest questions about the infrastructure and housing challenges facing London. Minister for Rail Claire Perry (for Zac) and London Assembly member Valerie Shawcross (for Sadiq) took to the stage along with other mayoral candidates including Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats), Sian Berry (Green) and Peter Whittle (UKIP).

The debate was chaired by Antony Oliver, former editor of NCE and Infrastructure Intelligence, and raised some very interesting points:

  • “We need to set up a special energy advisory group in London to really tackle sustainability and create new green targets to tackle recycling and waste.” – Valerie Shawcross, Labour
  • “Cycling and walking are the most efficient way of using space. 40% of TFL’s budget comes from fares; just 2.5% comes from car drivers – something has to change.”– Sian Berry, Green
  • “Zac, like me is absolutely committed to infrastructure investment, which has been neglected by all Governments. But we need a mayor who can work with central government. We don’t want to see Londoners make the mistake of promising a lot and delivering little.”– Claire Perry, Conservative 
  • “I'd set up a construction academy and a London-wide career service to tackle the skills shortage across the Capital, and invest in STEM apprenticeships.” – Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat
  • "700 private hire vehicles (PHV) licenses are given out each month by City Hall which are destroying the black cabs; but are also causing significantly increased congestion on the capitals roads affecting how we travel." – Peter Whittle, UKIP

But over the course of the evening the audience began to question whether the housing and infrastructure challenges facing the capital are simply too big for individual Mayoral candidates to answer and suggested it might explain the absence of the election’s front runners.

So this raises an important question for us as leaders in the infrastructure sector: What can we do to give city leaders confidence to engage on the big infrastructure issues?

It's more important than ever for us to work closely with city mayors and their teams in City Hall, creating two way dialogue to ensure we keep the city moving, find solutions to its challenges and future proof it for the next generation.

UK & Europe,

The report’s findings raise a number of challenging questions for the government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative, specifically in terms of creating a sustainable approach to education, aspiration and skills. After all you can create all the jobs in the wold, but if you haven’t got people with the necessary skills to deliver them they are of little value and are certainly not going to result in the economic prosperity that is desired. Without the foundations of a strong and stable education system, one that inspires and provokes ambition, surely it will mean the Northern Powerhouse is setting itself up to fail.

Taking the topic of education and aspiration a step further, it reminds me of an old saying ‘shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations’. It describes a pattern of family wealth gained in one generation that is often lost by the third through a combination of complacency and stagnation of appetite for success.  For me this could be a very real risk facing the Northern Powerhouse if we invest in the railway, airports and broadband, but are unable to inspire and empower the next generation and continue to build momentum across the region into the future.  

Of course, no one can argue with the positive impacts of economic growth, better transport links and business confidence for a city and the surrounding community. As the Northern Powerhouse connectivity plans get underway, many cities will of course begin to see the physical changes that make it easier to move from east to west. But does physical connectivity, on its own, have the power to deliver prosperity and productivity in the all-important long term?

Unfortunately not, transport connectivity can’t answer all the challenges facing towns and cities. More is needed to ensure places become holistic, self-reliant and prosperous spaces. The heart of the Northern Powerhouse success will be how people feel, the environment they experience and their place in its success. We need to ensure the initiative isn’t a flash in the pan of investment, increased connectivity and is only a focus for the next decade. Through the commitment of individuals and communities to its agenda, young people who are core to the sustainability and longevity of the programme will ensure it lives on and avoids the trappings of ‘shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations.’

It will be through a resilient and inspiring education system we can invest and grow the next generation, providing them with the support to aspire to new heights, whether that be entrepreneurship opportunities, apprenticeships or university, with the knowledge there is always room at the top, if you are ambitious enough.

UK & Europe,

The comment was later followed with a suggestion that engineers will be the ones who play a leading role in solving the major challenges facing our cities’ growing populations over the next 50 years. We agree, shaping, developing and building our world cities is what we do. But we forget at our peril that it is people that make cities what they are. I’d argue that infrastructure is merely , but importantly, the enabler. Therefore it’s important we do everything we can to ensure we connect and bring together the hard infrastructure we design and build with the soft infrastructure that impacts things like social mobility, green spaces and creativity, which build our successful cities and enrich individuals’ lives.

Broadly speaking, when we talk about tackling the challenges of a rising population we focus on the importance of road and rail connectivity, runways at our airports, houses and digital infrastructure – the things which are often the most tangible. However, when identifying engineering and environmental solutions that will future proof our cities in the long term, I believe we need to elevate the importance of what is often regarded as “soft” infrastructure into the early decision making process. After all, creating places that people want to live, work and spend their leisure time in is equally as important. These “soft” elements are the building blocks of a successful economy – locally and nationally.

In fact, addressing soft infrastructure builds in agility and adaptability, helping to future proof them. And it maximises the benefits that hard infrastructure provides for people and the long term positive impacts on social mobility, community engagement, health and wellbeing and well-designed public realm.

As demands on cities increase it’s vital that while creating infrastructure designed to last for decades, we retain the flexibility to adapt it more effectively to the changing lives of people. Whether this means planning to evolve or evolving our plan – in my mind these are slightly different approaches but have the same outcome – we need end users to drive demand and then have the ability to inform, shape and change the way our cities work.

Coming back to the Duke’s point, yes engineers will of course provide the answers and solutions to many of the challenges facing our urban spaces in the future. But let’s not just make it about great infrastructure, let’s ensure people are at the heart of the decisions which will ultimately create a successful economy and better world for us all.

UK & Europe,

It strikes me that in many cases we’re letting silos inhibit us from driving forward the development of our cities to benefit the end user.

It’s this lack of a joined up and collaborative approach across domains such as education, transport and industry, that may stifle our ability to create productive and truly intelligent cities. In fact, the digital revolution means that we have the opportunity to act now to create new connections within and between cities if we are to meet the complex demographic, economic and climate opportunities and challenges that are just around the corner.

Organisations that are on a mission to dissolve silos and encourage greater collaboration and idea sharing see significant effects, not only on their bottom line but also in their resilience and ability to solve problems.

With this in mind, there must be a thing or two our cities can learn from this approach as well. As we move further and further towards a fast paced, 24 hour society, we need to make sure our public and private services are increasingly intelligent, integrated and agile to respond to these needs and create globally competitive urban places.

Let’s take a live example in the UK today. As the devolution agenda rolls out from Whitehall and the wheels of the Northern Powerhouse are now set into motion to boost business, drive economic growth and increase productivity, we simply have to think and plan across broader horizons. In these early stages of the Northern Powerhouse development, cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Hull, will be moving ahead to create their own plans.

But to generate a truly successful Northern Powerhouse in a connected way, they also need to be looking at their respective interfaces and the opportunities to share talent and best practice if they want to maximise the improvements to transport systems and connectivity, to create interdependent energy infrastructure and make better use of public spaces. In the long term, by finding solutions together and not as competitors, and fostering stronger partnerships with the private sector, these cities will provide better services for the end user and create a globally competitive region of the UK.

I’m not suggesting that breaking down silos in how we manage and deliver services across our cities is the answer to all the complex challenges they face, but I do believe it is a good place to start. Only in this way will we begin to stimulate greater integration and collaboration for the greater good. Joining up the varying aspects of city life from the timetables of metro systems, opening hours of coffee shops and booking an appointment at the dentist, will have the power to unlock cities that are better aligned to the needs of citizens today and in the future. 

UK & Europe,

Over the last several months non-protected government departments and local authorities have been working hard to model how they would operate if their budgets were reduced by up to 40%. This is no enviable task and it will be interesting to see what their new world looks like after the Chancellor has presented the Comprehensive Spending Review in November.

It prompted me to think about how designers, engineers and project managers would approach the problem. In fact we do, perhaps not very often to the tune of 40%, but a large proportion of the projects we work on will need to be delivered for thousands or millions of pounds less than anticipated. We normally refer to it as value engineering.

The scope of a project could be seen as the easy place to start. Cut the scope and the costs should drop naturally because you would be delivering less for less. But doesn’t the well-trodden phrase state we should be “delivering more for less”? If engineering projects are routinely gold-plated, the efficiency challenge acts as a sensible test to make sure we’re only building what is required. However, I don’t believe this is the case, so cutting the scope or removing anything above basic functionality would most likely just lead to “no frills” cities, buildings and infrastructure. I don’t think any of us would like to live in a world stripped of character, identity or uniqueness. You only have to look at the infrastructure we’re delivering, take the re-generated Birmingham New Street station as an example, to know this is not the general approach we’re taking.

That must mean we’re also getting better at using technology, we’re working together more effectively, we’re tightening up processes, removing duplication and pushing the boundaries of conventional thinking to meet our efficiency challenges.

I’m sure many government departments and local authorities have included these approaches in the proposals they submitted to Treasury, but we should also expect some quick fixes, so things we thought were in the pipeline don’t happen, at least not as quickly as anticipated.

In some ways, I think this creates a more important role for the design and engineering community. Assuming the economy continues to grow and those items that were put on the back burner do go ahead at some point in the future, we need to make sure we are thinking long term and are making the right decisions now. This could be about getting as much value out of the initial investments as possible or not preventing or inhibiting future development.

This is where master planning comes in. We need to drive the thinking about the long term plan and outcomes, not just the immediate piece of work in front of us. Running scenarios will allow us to consider additional capacity or related developments which may be needed in the future so we can design the first phase accordingly and maximise value for those who use and fund our buildings and infrastructure.

I’m confident our industry has the skills and knowledge to make sure that financial constraints today don’t prevent us from shaping the world we want tomorrow.

UK & Europe,