It’s teamwork that puts the ‘DO’ in DCO: my NIPA story

14 February 2023

Anna Sutherland-Bamber
Infrastructure Planner | WICE 2023 Finalist for Best Consultant

I, like everyone else, use infrastructure every day. It’s great when it all works – as it mostly does and is therefore taken for granted – but every now and then something goes wrong. Then it becomes the second most talked about topic in the UK outside of the weather!

I think we need to talk about infrastructure more of the time. It’s massively important for people, planet, prosperity, opportunity – all of the things that lead to a better quality of life and, when we do things properly, better sustainability.

Beyond just talking about infrastructure, I want to talk about the challenge of finding the solutions for the next generation of infrastructure requirements: in power generation & transmission, water supply, waste water and travel. This matters. In addition to having a practical necessity to equip ourselves and future generations with what they need, I think we have a moral obligation. I think we must apply all of our best efforts to ensure that the country’s infrastructure delivers the necessary services and, more than that, has the smallest impact on surrounding landowners, communities and the environment.

All of this takes me to my central point. No one individual or organization is going to solve this. We need a team – and that team needs to bring its best collaboration, innovation and expertise to help us do what we need to do.

Let’s remember we’re in a climate crisis. There are things we need to act on now and things we need to address for the long term.

Because future infrastructure solutions cannot be achieved by traditional methods alone, we’re going to need people pulling together and acting for our shared goals. Daunting as this is in some ways, it’s also tremendously exciting. We can combine the best of the best – planners, environmental specialists, surveyors, stakeholder relations and communications, engineers, construction specialists, and lawyers – and be a force for good that is more than the sum of our parts.

As for the prize, I know that I’m proud to be playing an ever increasing role in bringing positivity and making a contribution. How fulfilling will it be for us to look back and tell our friends, family and even strangers that “we did that.” We were the ones who leant in when we were needed. We did something good to deliver a lasting legacy and impact.

Now I’m on a roll with my story, I can reflect with more clarity on the question of what I would have told my 21-year-old self about the prospect of a career in infrastructure planning.

I would say grab it. Jump straight in. This sector is a large one and you can gain so much experience in such little time. So roll up your sleeves and give it a go.

I would also say take every opportunity you can get. Do the tours, visit construction sites and go to the local communities where the project will be based. Remember to think not just about what you’re trying to do and build, but they why. It’s vital to see the national need and the end benefit but also to stay sighted on and sympathetic to the local community. Everything is about balance.

A bit older and wiser now, I would also say to my younger self that crises are part of life. It’s not the fact of them happening that you need to worry about, it’s how you’re going to respond that matters. There are many crises in the world at the moment – the energy crisis, the climate change crisis, the food crisis, the biodiversity crisis – but all can be addressed. Human beings are nothing if not adaptable, resolute and ingenious. So don’t be afraid of the challenge, focus instead on how you’re going to step up, be on that team, and do something to make a difference.

I welcome the opportunity to share my NIPA story. It’s a good discipline to be made to think about these things and to step back from some of the day-to-day detail we all face when working on applications or through examinations.

The NIPA community is the crème de la crème of infrastructure planning, it brings all disciplines together and it fosters teamwork and collaboration. I think NIPA provides something very special when it comes to equipping ourselves to tackle the scale of the infrastructure challenge. I’m also delighted to see the creation of NIPA Early Years Practitioners which has been great at generating new ideas and will help NIPA to achieve a legacy which is evident both in the physical NSIPs consented and constructed, and also in the talent and capability of the next generation.

Thinking back to when I was ‘the next generation’, I would say that I fell into the world of infrastructure planning. There was no grand plan nor was it somewhere I was thinking of my career going. I was working as an EIA consultant on a number of different smaller projects when my line manager suggested I apply to Thames Tideway Tunnel for a secondment – a project which would clean up the River Thames and be of massive benefit. “That’s a cool job” I thought and the rest is history. I was hooked and the thought of working in any other industry now seems alien to me.

For sure, what we all do is demanding and infrastructure planning is not always an easy journey. There are late nights, weekend working, challenges from stakeholders, clients and others. We get pressed on whether we’re doing the right things, or doing enough – and some people will question the legitimacy or the lasting legacy of what we build.

But I’ve always welcomed that. I’m happy to work hard, to face the scrutiny of probing questions, and to do what I can within the team to help achieve the objective. Not many of us will be as famous as Joseph Bazalgette but we can all play a part, make a contribution to the project and the team, and walk away when the job is done with our heads held high.

The ‘I’ in NSIP is for ‘Infrastructure’. It’s teamwork that puts the ‘DO’ in ‘DCO’.

This is my #NIPAstories and I am a proud Infrastructure Planner.