Infrastructure and urban systems

This is a new research area within our portfolio, formed from the merger of the Transportation Operations and Management and the Sustainable Land Management areas, plus relevant infrastructure and urban systems aspects of the Built Environment area. It recognises that future sustainability and resilience concepts underpin a majority of research in those areas, and the clear drive across government and Research Councils towards the Cities and Urban Living agenda. We will continue to work with other Research Councils, innovation partners (e.g. Innovate UK) and government to support multidisciplinary research related to Infrastructure and Urban Systems and maintain investment in this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Research in this area plays a key role in addressing engineering challenges associated with systems-wide infrastructure and smart cities. Over the Delivery Plan, the community should seek to address concepts highlighted in the Engineering Grand Challenge across Future Cities. Specifically, by the end of the Delivery Plan, this research area will be characterised by:

  • Long-term transformative research, led by the community and addressing core engineering and whole-systems integrated approaches to future infrastructure
  • Key drivers that may include: research into physical and digital interventions that allow cities to become more effective; improving the performance, capacity and connectivity of transport networks; solutions to systemic failure due, for instance, to ageing, stretched capacity
  • Research taking a holistic view of cities and their systems, including dependencies between them and critical infrastructure
  • A portfolio addressing research challenges in a whole-system context, in conjunction with those set out in the Built Environment, Structural Engineering, Ground Engineering and other relevant (especially IT-based) research areas - ultimately accelerating transformative impact.

Over the Delivery Plan, we will work with the community to understand and address leadership or related skills challenges - e.g. concerning early-career researchers (ECRs) - alongside similar needs in the Built Environment, Structural Engineering and Ground Engineering areas.

The community should position itself to maximise the impact of the planned investment in the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) and capitalise on the UK leadership created through such an investment, ensuring that multidisciplinary opportunities are harnessed.

We will work with other government bodies, with Catapults and across Research Councils to align investment and encourage a more joined-up approach to Grand Challenges, to de-risk and provide evidence for future government infrastructure investment. Research in this area needs to remain technology-led with appropriate consideration of social challenges.

This research area is also of potential relevance to Official Development Assistance funding streams.

  1. UKCRIC website.
  2. HM Government, Construction 2025 (PDF), (2013).
  3. Government Office for Science, Future of Cities: The Science of Cities and Future Research Priorities, (2016) (and related reports on the theme).
  4. UK Research and Innovation, Urban Living Partnership.

Other sources:

In this area, an extensive research community has strong international standing. Research is inherently multidisciplinary and supported across a number of themes (with key strengths in systems-based approaches), particularly with the civil engineering-related research areas Built Environment, Ground Engineering and Structural Engineering. Coupled with Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), this has resulted in a large cross-disciplinary community and generated a wealth of knowledge and expertise.

Four CDTs directly align to the priorities of the Built Environment; a further four overlap with other civil engineering areas. There has been a steady number of students supported through the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) and Industrial Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE), and strong overlap with student training in the Built Environment, Ground Engineering and Structural Engineering research areas.

This research area has a low number of EPSRC-funded ECRs, in terms of first grants and early-career fellows, with overall funded ECRs falling in the last Delivery Plan - a trend reflected in other civil engineering-related areas.

Over 80% of the UK population live in urban areas. Urban infrastructure is the foundation of economic productivity and human wellbeing. According to the UKCRIC, inadequate infrastructure costs the nation £2 million a day. The proposed UKCRIC will have major city observatories across the country, with core areas aligned to the challenges of the Infrastructure and Urban Systems research area. (Evidence source 1)

The economic returns of well-targeted infrastructure investment can be up to £10 per £1 spent; the National Infrastructure Pipeline totals £468 billion, yet research among UK universities to inform this agenda equates to only a small fraction of this. (Evidence source 2 )Future sustainability and resilience is a clear driver across government and the Research Councils, as reflected in the publishing of the National Infrastructure Plan, the Government Office for Science's Future Cities project and the formation of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and National Infrastructure Commission. (Evidence source 3,4)

Innovate UK's Future Cities and Transport Systems Catapults provide world-class facilities and expertise and bring together businesses and universities.

This area contributes to all Outcomes; Productive, Connected, Resilient and Health Nations, and the following Ambitions in particular:

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

This research area is critical as part of a whole-systems approach ensuring that infrastructure capabilities are resilient and underpin the modern economy.

P2: Ensure affordable solutions to national needs

Whole-systems approaches will develop innovative, efficient solutions that increase productivity and create better living standards.

C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things

Research into smart building technologies can transform infrastructure capabilities. 

H2: Improve prevention and public health

For example, smart infrastructures can be designed to encourage healthy behaviours and support good mental health.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Infrastructure and urban systems (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Bethany Turner
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444536