So. Brexit. Lots of emotions are sweeping around our industry right now, but the over-riding one is fear. What can we do about it?
There is no getting away from it: the industry is really worried.
It certainly is: our online poll tells us that 67% of respondents think the referendum result will be bad for civil engineering.
You can see why. Network Rail had already scaled back its aspirations; Transport for London’s projects – big and small – were already being reviewed; and Hinkley was already doubtful.
Then came 23 June and the political maelstrom it has created. Heathrow has lost its big supporter in prime minister David Cameron (and looks set to gain a massive opponent in Theresa May); a recession looms and Highways England is looking anxiously at its easily cuttable budgets. To top it all off, the National Audit Office has supplied anyone looking for an excuse to delay High Speed 2 with evidence that the scheme is running late and looking iffy on costs.
But the government – or at least transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin (and at least while he remains in the post) – is talking positively about the role of infrastructure investment in driving the economy.
“As we address the future and the consequences of our vote to leave the European Union, one thing is certain; investment in the long-term infrastructure we need has become more important, not less,” McLoughlin told an infrastructure summit last week.
Government (or at least the current government) does see infrastructure projects as a means to stimulate the economy – much as it saw it in the all-too-recent recession. At the summit, McLoughlin recalled chancellor George Osborne’s decision back in 2010 not to cancel Crossrail, despite advice that the money would be better spent paying down the national debt. It went ahead as part of a fiscal stimulus that also eventually resulted in money thrown at a raft of “shovel ready” highways schemes. Indeed, the problem there was that there weren’t enough shovel ready schemes on which to spend the cash quickly enough.
So there are reasons to be positive and concerted action is important. And it is great to see all the engineering institutions and trade bodies uniting around the Royal Academy of Engineering to drive engineering’s response. We are in talks with the Academy about how New Civil Engineer can support that effort.
But there is no time to wait, and there are probably three things that industry must do right now.
The first is to get behind High Speed 2 in a way that it has not managed to do so far; both by being universally enthusiastic about it and also by giving real confidence about delivery by showing what has been achieved elsewhere on other projects (high speed or otherwise).
The second is probably to get behind Gatwick. It’s less politically challenged than Heathrow; it’s less technically challenged too (that is, there is no need to put the 10 lanes of the M25 in a tunnel and shift one of Britain’s biggest energy from waste plants); and it is something that could be got on with pretty quickly – which sounds good right now.
And third, and most definitely most important of all, the industry should be working all guns blazing on getting some smaller roads schemes ready to go – working with local authorities and Highways England to get schemes worked up and in to (and out of) the planning system, so that if the call does go out this time, they are ready to start.