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Delivery problem


Times are good and the civil engineering infrastructure wish list just keeps on growing.

Time therefore to really transfer our attention to the business end of the matter - how to move these dreams into reality.

According to civil engineers this week, we need: 300 new waste handling facilities to avoid a waste crisis; new waste to energy incinerators; a Severn tidal barrage; new coal, gas and nuclear power stations to avert an energy crisis; and an underground radioactive waste store for our nuclear crisis.

Add to this a massive investment to stem the local roads disaster; half a dozen new reservoirs to stop taps running dry; new airport terminals and runways to keep travel demand at bay and; bored tunnels beneath Stonehenge to head off a congestion crisis.

None of it could really be described as outlandish or scaremongering (other than the need for a tunnel beneath Stonehenge or a new nuclear power programme - my view of course 'and not necessarily the view of the Institution of Civil Engineers', to reinforce the disclaimer).

It is absolutely appropriate that we, as a profession, point out the seriousness of such infrastructure needs. Our role is, after all, to be the guardians of all that is, necessarily, taken for granted by politicians and the general public.

However, I fear that at some point we have to consider how to ensure the rest of the nation is still following our train of thought.

I say this because, worthy though much of this week's wish list is, its projects will be subjected to the vagaries of the UK planning and funding systems. This means, few projects will actually make it beyond the level of aspiration.

Take waste - investment is needed but the private sector is reluctant or unable to stomach the planning approval risk. The result is that only a handful of the 300 schemes needed are underway.

And water - why has it taken so long for us to bite the bullet over how to store water that falls in one part of our small country for use in areas where it doesn't?

The long runnng planning inquiry for Heathrow's Terminal 5 put down a marker for future decisions over airport expansion. And look at the ridiculous 15 year row still raging over a simple bypass around Stonehenge.

With this in mind, it is frankly laughable that anyone could assume that winning approval for a 'third generation' of nuclear power stations or an underground radioactive waste store will be a straightforward process.

Not least in this week as we mark the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

The good news is that there is at last some strategic - and joined up - thinking going on at local level. The latest generation of regional spatial strategies which are now out for consultation, seem to be making the crucial link between infrastructure investment and the wider social needs of communities.

That is presumably the point behind devolution and requires that these plans be given the chance and teeth to be enacted.

Centralisation is over. The infrastructure future can really only work if regionally focussed.

On this basis I am reassured.

It is pretty unlikely that we will nd plans for new radioactive repositories or nuclear power stations included in regional plans. That should certainly save on wasted time and effort over the next few years.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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