Famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel helped shape the South West, creating some of the region’s most iconic and enduring infrastructure. But what does the South West need in future to meet the unprecedented challenges posed by the nature and climate emergencies?
A new podcast series, Beyond Brunel, explores the role of infrastructure in the South West’s transition to net zero carbon by 2050, while improving people’s lives, helping the region to become more productive and protecting nature and the environment.
Commissioned and devised by the South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP) with funding from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) South West, and produced by Devon & Plymouth Chamber members Fresh Air Studios, Beyond Brunel brings together infrastructure leaders and industry experts for wide-ranging discussions on the transformation of the region’s infrastructure system.
Titled ‘Innovation and Productivity’, the first episode features special guests, Jane Austin, Director of Engineering and Asset Management for the Wales and Western Region, Network Rail, Andrew Page-Dove, Operational Control Director, National Highways, Natalie Bird, Net Zero and Carbon Management Consultant, Mott MacDonald and Bryony Chetwode, Stakeholder Advisor and Secretary, Travelwatch Southwest. Recorded at Fresh Air Studios in Plymouth, the series is presented by local civil engineer, Christopher Ackland.
A key challenge explored in the episode is the problem of disjointed transport infrastructure in the region. Guests talk in detail about how increasing connections between road, rail, and active forms of travel, such as cycling and walking, could improve people’s journeys. They also discuss putting the traveller first and making travel time more useful for people through better digital connectivity.
“Brunel shaped the region through grand infrastructure projects, but we can’t just build our way to a net zero future,” said Ackland, who studied engineering at the University of Plymouth and now works for engineering consultancy, WSP.
“As an engineer, I’m inspired by the opportunities that Brunel’s ingenuity created for the South West, however, our guests focus on a new kind of infrastructure revolution, which will help our region respond to the climate crisis, changes in demographic and social behaviours.
“The conversations will appeal to anyone keen to understand infrastructure challenges and how those working in the industry are thinking about the future.”
The series accompanies the South West Vision 2050 report, which uses the podcast discussions as a basis for examining what the region needs to do to achieve an effective, forward-facing infrastructure system. The report, produced by WSP on behalf of SWIP and ICE South West, identifies four areas for action, three key asks of political leaders and five big questions for defining future needs.
Peter Kydd, outgoing Chair of SWIP, said: “When we first considered how to articulate an infrastructure vision for the South West, our objective was to shine a light on how we get to the future rather than be prescriptive about a preferred portfolio of specific construction projects.
“What better way to explore this than to put together our regional infrastructure leaders and experts in a room with a microphone and hear what they have to say. The South West Vision 2050 brings together this testimony with other evidence and case studies to provide insights for achieving our future infrastructure goals with ambition, urgency, efficiency, and coordination.”
The Beyond Brunel podcast and South West Vision 2050 report were launched on Thursday 2 February onboard Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and the report can be downloaded from the South West Infrastructure Partnership website.
Miranda Housden, Director, ICE South West, said: “What stands out, both in the podcast episodes and throughout the new report, is the focus on the end user. How do we better identify and meet the needs of people in the South West with infrastructure planning and decision making? The podcast is a starting point, and we hope to continue the conversation with local communities and infrastructure leaders to ensure the region is not left behind in the net zero transition.”
Paul Philpott, CEO of Fresh Air Studios, was delighted to be asked to help bring the Beyond Brunel podcast vision to life: “One of the topics that has been coming up again and again in the Beyond Brunel discussions is the importance of connectivity across the South West region.
“As experts in communication, we’re proud to be asked to produce this podcast and play a small role in connecting people and communities through audio and video in order to share the important messages contained in the podcasts.”
A new episode of the Beyond Brunel podcast will be available each month along with a set of case studies showing examples of infrastructure innovations and projects already underway across the South West.