Liane Hartley, Expert Adviser, social sustainability, on community skills and expertise, dramatic landscapes, and insights into human behaviour.
Interview by Steve Long
Liane Hartley was born and raised in Cardiff, Wales. She is an expert in urban regeneration and social sustainability and a recognised thought leader in creating socially sustainable and inclusive cities. With over 20 years’ experience in the buildings and infrastructure sector, she has worked with a range of public and private sector clients to develop policy and deliver complex urban infrastructure projects, including Crossrail and Thames Tideway. Liane is also Founder of Urbanistas, a global collaborative network amplifying the voices of women to make cities better for everyone. She now lives in Winchmore Hill, in north London.
Which project that you’ve worked on during your career are you most proud of?
Crossrail is definitely the project I’m proudest of, not just because of its sheer scale and complexity, but also because it was the first construction project I had ever worked on. Prior to this I had always been involved in policy and planning, at much earlier stages in the built environment process. I worked on Crossrail’s Contract 305 to deliver the Eastern Running Tunnels – the largest single contract on the project. My role was Responsible Procurement Manager and I worked with the contractor, supply chain and stakeholders to deliver targets and commitments on aspects including ethical sourcing, local employment, apprenticeships, and community investment. Whilst the London 2012 Olympic Games successfully demonstrated the importance of sustainability, Crossrail took the learning and innovation from this and raised the bar for embedding sustainability in construction and infrastructure even further. I’m proud to have been part of this.
“Whilst the London 2012 Olympic Games successfully demonstrated the importance of sustainability, Crossrail … raised the bar for embedding sustainability in construction and infrastructure even further.”
If you could offer a client one piece of advice based on your specific area of expertise, what would it be?
Local people are the experts on their places! I think as “experts” we fall into a trap of assuming we have all the answers, when I think it is important to ensure we have looked at projects, issues, and problems from a variety of different perspectives so we can fully appreciate the impacts. There is immense skill, experience, and expertise in every community and this is an asset that is often squandered. We need to be better at mobilising and utilising this for the benefit of projects and communities.
“There is immense skill, experience, and expertise in every community and this is an asset that is often squandered.”
What is the biggest challenge that the global infrastructure sector is currently facing?
For me it’s about ensuring we can maximise the social value of infrastructure projects to ensure there is a positive return on everyday life and for all members of society. We also need to make sure we can manage the challenges of meeting the climate change emergency, whilst achieving inclusive economic growth and growing resilient communities. These are big structural issues that need to underpin how we design, commission, and operate infrastructure in the future. We rely on infrastructure to live our lives and work as a society, so it has to be fit for purpose and meet our needs as users. It is great to see this user-oriented focus coming through in design and this needs to be coupled with looking at being future fit for lifestyles and the needs of future users too.
“We … need to make sure we can manage the challenges of meeting the climate change emergency, whilst achieving inclusive economic growth and growing resilient communities.”
What was your most rewarding experience on the Crossrail project?
Breaking through at Farringdon and connecting with the Western Running Tunnels! It was really emotional to see several years of hard work from our whole team culminate in this single moment; when the machinery broke through and you could see light creep through, and then faces emerging from the other side. I also got the chance to go through the early part of the tunnel to explore the Tunnel Boring Machine whilst it was waiting to break through at Canary Wharf station. It was amazing to see the complexity of the machine at first hand. It was also really rewarding to reach our target for apprenticeships, which was a huge achievement for us as a contractor and the Crossrail project as a whole. There was a significant emphasis on using Crossrail as an opportunity to give local and young people vital training and employment opportunities. It was a challenging target but through collaboration with Crossrail and our fellow contractors we got there, and this is a great legacy for the project.
What is your favourite rail journey, and why?
Some of my favourite rail journeys are the ones where the landscapes are most dramatic. This includes some in the UK which hug the amazing coastline we have – the train down to Penzance which gives spectacular views of the Cornish coastline, and the journey from London to Edinburgh which takes in the wild Northumberland coastline. I have also taken a train through northern Italy up to the Alto Adige region, framed by the beautiful Dolomites, which was really special.
If you could visit and travel on any rail system in the world you’ve never been, where would you go?
I would love to take a train journey through Scandinavia, taking in the fjords, mountains and maybe even a glimpse of the northern lights. Perhaps Norway’s Flåm Railway. Not only is this a feat of engineering but the landscape is just incredible.
My all-time favourite track is …
What a great question! It’s a close call between two of my all-time favourites. The first is “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I remember the first time I ever heard this song and it stopped me in my tracks. The poetic lyrics, the beauty and ferocity of Kurt Cobain’s voice, the haunting guitars, the drama of the drums, all add together to create a sound that was really unique. It still sends shivers down my spine when I hear it and I am instantly transported to the early ‘90s! I remain a huge Nirvana fan and “Nevermind” is still one of my favourite albums.
The second is “Human Behaviour” by Björk. Her voice and lyrics are so unique, offering a really interesting insight into modern life and human relationships. I would love to glimpse into Björk’s mind! I think she is a magical and very special talent. I admire her boldness and free spirit. She is not afraid to push boundaries, challenge people with her music and sounds and be completely experimental. There is something really primal about this song yet her voice seems to sound so alien and futuristic – in a good way, of course!