A new industry-academia research partnership has been formed with the aim of improving understanding of how major UK infrastructure programs interact with the natural environment.
Given the UK’s ambitious infrastructure pipeline over the next few years, the new partnership between global infrastructure services consultancy AECOM and the University of Salford in Greater Manchester aims to develop industry’s knowledge of this topic, which will be increasingly important for future programs. The organizations will jointly fund environmental research on topics directly applicable to major infrastructure projects. The research areas will be chosen to provide benefits to particular schemes, and to help reduce adverse impacts and improve outcomes for the natural environment on future projects.
The partnership has evolved from the environmental consultancy work AECOM is delivering for the Mersey Gateway Project, a major new transport scheme and one of the largest infrastructure projects in the UK. The company is providing specialist environmental advice and monitoring to help manage the impact of the new route on the environment. The work is part of AECOM’s design joint venture with UK consultants Flint & Neill to deliver detailed design consultancy services to the Merseylink consortium, which was awarded a contract to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the scheme for Halton Borough Council.
The project includes a new six-lane toll bridge over the River Mersey and part of AECOM’s work has focused on the complex and sensitive estuarine environment. Realizing that new research about the impact of infrastructure schemes on such habitats would be beneficial to the project and to industry as a whole, AECOM and the University of Salford have formed a partnership to explore opportunities for appropriate research. The partners will co-fund research that could lead to PhD studies and scientific papers. Research areas could include exploring potential issues for wildlife when working in areas with contaminated sediments; predicting disturbance to sensitive species from construction activities; and investigating perceptions of biodiversity within construction.
“Shaping research so that it is applicable to specific projects provides students with opportunities to make a tangible difference to both academia and industry through their learning,” explained Peter Skinner, chief executive of environment and ground engineering for Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at AECOM.
“Greater collaboration between universities and the private sector will make an important contribution to mitigating the impact of infrastructure on the environment and protecting the natural world. We are proud to be working with the University of Salford on this initiative to increase understanding of the environmental and ecological aspects of infrastructure projects.”
Professor Nigel Mellors, pro-vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at the University of Salford, said, “This partnership will provide a unique opportunity for both parties. It fits into our aim of focusing our research at real-life challenges and to deliver real-life impact for society. It will also give our students the chance to get involved in a live project and help them develop key skills for industry.”