To help develop this article, click 'edit this article' above.
Infrastructure is the term used to describe the interconnected organisational structures that underpin society and enable it to function effectively.
In its physical sense, infrastructure generally relates to the assets necessary to facilitate the flow of supplies required by society, sometimes referred to as 'hard' infrastructure.
These assets generally require both physical networks and control systems.
'Soft' infrastructure can also be include built assets, such as hospitals and schools, that are central to the operation of society. However, more commonly it refers to organisational mechanisms, such as government, legislation the emergency services and so on.
Civil engineers are the profession most commonly associated the provision of hard infrastructure. Civil engineers design, construct, maintain and improve the physical environment, including; bridges, tunnels, roads, railways, canals, dams, buildings, flood and coastal defences, airports and other large structures.
See Civil engineers for more information.
The UK's first National Infrastructure Plan was published in October 2010, developed by Infrastructure UK (now the Infrastructure and Projects Authority). The plan was created to tackle the UK's historically fragmented infrastructure development programmes which tend to be ineffective at prioritising need, instead only reacting to failures. The plan is intended to provide a clear, long-term strategy for maintaining and improving infrastructure, enabling the UK to remain competitive and to accommodate an increasing population.
See National Infrastructure Plan for more information.
Development consent orders (DCO) are a means of obtaining permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP). This includes energy, transport, water and waste projects. Development consent orders are required for designated Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects rather than other consents such as planning permission, listed building consent and compulsory purchase orders.
See Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects for more information.
Section 206 of the Planning Act 2008 gives 'charging authorities' (generally the local planning authority) the power to charge the community infrastructure levy (CIL). It is a charge that local authorities can choose to impose on new developments to fund local infrastructure. This could include infrastructure such as:
- Transport schemes.
- Flood defences.
- Green spaces.
- Leisure centres.
See Community Infrastructure Levy for more information.
A masterplan is a framework within which a location is encouraged to develop or change. Developing a masterplan is a collaborative process involving a wide range of disciplines, but underpinning its integrity is the creation of a sustainable infrastructure suitable for the future of the society it serves.
- The make-up of our societies is changing, and with this there is an ongoing shift in the cultural expectations and requirements of the urban realm.
- Land allocation and land use now follow different economic, civic and political structures. In the UK today we have a largely consensual politics and this affects what can be built at every scale; from national infrastructure to the layout of individual streets.
- The advancement of technology means that the way space is used is undergoing significant change.
- Population in many key countries and cities is increasing rapidly.
- Many major infrastructure programmes that are being undertaken today will continue to impact on the UK economy for the next 50 to 80 years, but few decisions will be made on this basis. In contrast, the timeframes of some hi-tech industries are measured in months or even weeks. A product may only have a shelf-life of 80 weeks before it becomes redundant and is superseded by a 'newer and better' solution.
There is an emerging consensus about how to approach masterplanning within this context, but it has not yet become a standard process with a common language, clearly understood objectives and known outcomes.
For more information see Masterplanning.
There is broad agreement that densely populated urban areas should be more sustainable than less concentrated rural settlements. However, whilst around 50% of the global population lives in cities, they account for more than 75% of the consumption of non-renewable resources, and create around three quarters of global pollution.
From urban regeneration projects to creating new cities, an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach is required to ensure that all aspects of civil engineering and environmental planning are covered. Design teams need to operate across the complete project lifecycle, from assessing physical opportunities and constraints and considering the viability of different development options, to working with planners and developers to achieve the best solution.
At present, many smart systems, or smart grids linked to infrastructure, operate in functional silos, with their own specific hardware and software, operated by companies with specialist knowledge of that particular field. Each system has its own dedicated controls and networks of sensors. Centralised 'smart', control systems not only avoid duplication – with significant cost savings – but also provide a far richer picture of what is happening; enabling more informed decision-making and more rapid deployment of measures to deal with emerging situations.
Smart cities not only optimise the use of technology in the design and operation of infrastructure and buildings, they require consideration of governance and growth, urban development and infrastructure, the environment and natural resources, society and community.
For more information see Smart cities.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Brexit - The case for infrastructure.
- Civil engineer.
- Community infrastructure levy.
- Development consent order.
- Engineering smart cities.
- Government construction and infrastructure pipelines.
- Green infrastructure.
- Growth and Infrastructure Act.
- Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
- Infrastructure UK (IUK).
- Internet of things.
- London infrastructure plan.
- National Infrastructure Pipeline.
- National Infrastructure Plan.
- Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.
- Road construction.
- Runway construction.
- Smart cities.
- Types of road and street.
 External references.
Featured articles and news
Read about RSHP's British Museum extension which has been shortlisted for the 2017 Stirling Prize.
Read our introductory article to building a house extension.
More updates from DCMS about the large-scale testing of cladding systems and the number of buildings affected.
UandI secure resolution to grant planning consent for major new regeneration project.
IHBC article considers how heritage is dealt with when infrastructure schemes are authorised.
It was the tallest structure in the world for 3,800 years, but to this day the exact construction techniques are a mystery.
Shortlist for the industry's most coveted award announced.
Government responds to Mark Farmer's review of industry, rejecting the call for a levy on clients.
Peter Hansford to examine what wider lessons can be learned from the fire.
Every project is subject to uncertainty. How can construction better understand uncertainty for performance improvement?
MAD Architects reveal their designs for a futuristic campus for electric car manufacturer.
Homebuyers could borrow more with better forecasting of energy bills, according to industry consortium's new report.
Read our introductory article on carbon capture and storage.