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Build, build, build – could the government’s ambitious infrastructure plans put wellbeing at the heart of the built environment?

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On 30 June 2020, Boris Johnson unveiled plans to accelerate £5billion on infrastructure projects to help ease the economic impact of coronavirus.

With the promise to “build, build, build”, the prime minster announced he wanted to use the pandemic as an opportunity to “build the homes, to fix the NHS, to tackle the skills crisis”.

Here, we look at what’s been announced, how the measures could go beyond the economy to help improve people’s day-to-day lives, and whether this is the perfect opportunity to finally put wellbeing at the heart of the built environment.

What’s included in the £5billion infrastructure plan?

There are several areas of focus for the new infrastructure plan, including over £1billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme and further investment to repair and upgrade schools and colleges.

As well as £10million going towards improving the rail links around Manchester, £100million has been allocated to 29 road projects. Further investment is going towards digital upgrades and maintenance around 100 courts, maintenance of prisons and youth offender facilities and temporary prison places.

On top of this, £900million will go towards ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England, and £96million to improve town centres. It’s expected that this financial support will help develop parks, high streets and transport.

Plans to protect the UK’s natural infrastructure

In his speech, Johnson said he wanted to “build back greener and build a more beautiful Britain” by planting over 75,000 acres of trees every year by 2025.

There are also plans to boost local conservation projects, as well as create and protect thousands of jobs that will help to protect local environments. The aim is to safeguard meadows, rivers and local green spaces, which are vital for “capturing and removing CO2 from the atmosphere, protecting precious biodiversity, and connecting people with nature”.

Thinking about wellbeing in the built environment

While the ambitious multi-billion-pound plans are predominantly to kickstart the economy and create jobs, it’s interesting to note the language used by the prime minister in the announcements.

There’s an emphasis on green spaces and nature throughout the plans, and the impact this has on people’s wellbeing to “enchant and re-energise the soul”. From a Multi Comfort point of view, this aligns with our own perspectives on how plants and outdoor spaces can help to improve our wellbeing, as explained in this article about the benefits of forest bathing.

Following the coronavirus lockdown in the UK, many people have become aware of the importance and potential benefits of outdoor space, with more house-hunters looking for properties in rural areas and/or with gardens. It’s therefore fitting that within the announcements unveiling the plans to restart the economy – particularly through construction and infrastructure – that the prime minister focused on the importance of outdoor space.

And while the wider plans should be welcome news for the construction industry, there’s opportunity to think beyond the bricks and mortar. Whether we’re thinking about homes, schools, hospitals, workplaces or shared outdoor areas, wellbeing should be a key focus of the design and build.

For example, the right sort of school design can help improve results for students and the right sort of thermal controls is proven to be invaluable in all kinds of different settings, including hospitals and health care buildings. There’s also evidence that biophilic design makes financial sense, helping to support the economy.

With so many people’s lives turned upside down as a result of COVID-19, many are still wondering what ‘the new normal’ will be like. The government has announced significant investment to help aid the country’s recovery from the pandemic, and this gives us an opportunity to do more than simply start more construction projects – it gives us the opportunity to look at what we’re building and how we’re building it. Because by creating better spaces that enhance the quality of lives, we improve outcomes – not just for the economy, but for communities and individuals.

Ieuan Compton
Ieuan Compton Head of Marketing Services
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