We all know that climate change is happening, and we regularly see the effects, from dryer summers and colder winters to more extreme weather events. In response, we need to ensure that our water infrastructure is resilient in the face of potential droughts. But what role do temporary works play in this? Lisa Bury, Business Development Manager – AMP & Utilities at Mabey Hire, explains.

The climate change challenge

When it comes to utilities, climate change is making it harder than ever to ensure a continuous and reliable water supply – we’ve all seen the headlines about hosepipe bans and worryingly low reservoir levels. According to Water UK, between 2020 and 2050 we are twice as likely to see annual water restrictions, compared to the 1997-2004 period.1 But how do we fix this? It’s important that we make our country’s water infrastructure more resilient against drought.

Strategic Pipeline Alliance

The Strategic Pipeline Alliance (SPA) is a great example of water authorities taking action, with the project creating hundreds of kilometres of new, interconnecting pipelines to help keep fresh and clean water flowing across the Anglian Water network. East Anglia is an area particularly at risk. Not only does it have one of the most rapidly growing populations in the UK, but it is also the driest region in the country. On average, the east of England receives a third less rainfall than the rest of England, meaning that (without action) it could face dire consequences, with a projected daily water deficit of 30 million litres by as soon as 2025.2

The new SPA network is one of the largest infrastructure projects for a generation. With the underground pipelines stretching all the way from North Lincolnshire to Essex, it will allow 265 million litres of water to be moved from ‘wetter’ areas to ‘drier’ areas of the country, helping to bolster water supplies when needed. This isn’t the only example, with many similar projects happening all around the UK, albeit at a slightly smaller scale.

Temporary works, permanent impact

When laying new pipelines, the immediate concern is how to ensure the ground and excavation is safely supported. While groundworks can vary significantly in size, from smaller trench runs to huge cofferdams, it is vital that the ground is supported before work begins. No ground can be relied upon to safely stand unsupported in all circumstances, reinforced by the fact that even a cubic metre of soil can weigh as much as 1.5 tonnes.

Ultimately, the law states that you must prevent danger to any workers who are either in or around an excavation, regardless of its size. As such, it’s important that you have readily available access to a range of temporary support equipment for all applications, from lightweight shoring to sheets, frames and larger bracing struts.

What’s more, it’s not just groundworks support to consider, with projects of this scale often growing arms and legs as construction progresses on site. These additional temporary works needs can vary from formwork for the construction of new structures, to trench crossing units and even small temporary bridges for access. With new pipelines often crossing through rural countryside, gaining safe access for HGVs and other heavy plant equipment can present a major logistical challenge.

Digital engineering

While smaller trench runs can benefit from the ease of standard solutions, larger cofferdams call for bespoke scheme designs.

By developing a temporary works scheme bespoke for your specific application and requirements within a 3D digital environment, multiple factors can be considered, designing for the site, the ground conditions, and for any existing live services – to name just a few.

As well as providing the client with confidence in the design and an assurance that it will be ‘right first time’ out on site, an engineered design can also be carefully optimised. This can mean only using the exact amount of steel support that is required for the specific application, resulting in both cost and carbon savings.

Immersive technology takes this further still, offering teams a digital rehearsal of the works. The ability to visually explore the site and the proposed temporary works scheme before construction has commenced can be invaluable from a health and safety perspective. Allowing teams to identify any potential risks or design issues at an early stage, such software can also provide visualisation of the interfaces between permanent and temporary works, the scheduled phasing of the installation and even access logistics for equipment and other machinery.

Such technology is perhaps especially valuable on utility projects, where any trench or excavation can include the presence of existing services that have to be carefully worked around. By first exploring the site virtually, you can ensure that any proposed works or excavations are safe and possible to achieve.


While a high percentage of our water supply network will run underneath fields and countryside, the very purpose of connecting towns and cities to a resilient and reliable water supply means that construction work will often be required in built-up, urban areas.

Here, monitoring solutions can be another requirement. Programmed to monitor a host of structural and environmental factors – from noise and dust to vibrations and displacement – monitoring equipment can be key in ensuring that any works do not disrupt or cause damage to the environment, local community or surrounding structures, services and infrastructure.

1 https://www.water.org.uk/protecting-environment/climate-change

2 https://waterprojectsonline.com/custom_case_study/spa-2022/