Supported by analysis by Steer, the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has published its assessment of how the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic may affect the future demand for infrastructure in the UK.
Adopting a scenario approach to recognise the inherent uncertainties with the future trajectory of the pandemic and its longer-term impacts, the question that NIC asked us is what could be the long-term impacts on demand. Our work considered the transport, digital, energy and water sectors.
Our conclusion was that the greatest potential impacts are in the transport sector. We found that these potential impacts would come from more people working from home, either some or all of the time and what this would mean for commuting. Changes to social and leisure activities could be important too. Such effects have the potential to have a greater impact than people moving away from cities to commuter towns or the country. This is simply because the population that can work from home is large, and the effect can happen quickly while moving house is ‘sticky’ and affected by many factors, not least the availability and affordability of properties to move to.
For the digital sector, we concluded that pre-pandemic, the rate of growth, which is expected to continue, is so great that any pandemic impacts would soon be lost within the overall trend. For energy and water, we found that there are potential pandemic-related behavioural impacts but that these were less pronounced than for transport. These sectors also face other perhaps greater uncertainties – decarbonisation and the take-up of electric vehicles for energy and resilience to climate change for water.
Before the pandemic, there was a growing trend for more people to work from home, at least for some of the time. Other things that we considered – such as the growth in e-commerce and what this might mean for van traffic – were also growing. What remains to be seen is whether the pandemic has simply brought forward what would happen in any event or whether its results are a step-change in behaviour. On top of this, public policy has the ability to influence the future. The policy challenge is to reinforce the potential positive impacts of post-pandemic behavioural change while mitigating the negative ones.
The NIC’s report is available on their website: Behaviour change and infrastructure beyond COVID-19 (PDF)
You can also download our supporting analysis: Infrastructure Demand quantitative analysis for scenarios of behaviour change (PDF)