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Engineers must take lead on spending boom


Right now is a pretty good time to be part of the civil engineering profession.

Prime minister Tony Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown are set to shock Westminster next week with a radical new three year vision which should see the planning paths cleared for greater infrastructure and housing investment in the UK.

Implementation will inevitably rely heavily on the built environment professions and the construction industry.

The politicians will want to rapidly put in place the building blocks necessary for continued economic success in the UK over the next few decades.

It is a fact that the nation needs more affordable housing, and more affordable business and industrial locations. And we need better transport infrastructure to join it all up and link us more efficiently with the rest of mainland Europe.

There is also the delicate subject of how we generate enough power to keep the lights burning in the future.Whether we go for more fossil, nuclear or renewable energy, the right strategy is vital.

The decision to put public money into the nation's infrastructure is right and yet still very brave. When Blair and Brown set out the government vision it will be in the form of cash to make things happen.

Yet it will involve many sensitive and controversial decisions, many of which we know will not please everybody. The politicians will be well aware of this and will no doubt look to professions to help ensure that the right decisions are taken for the right reasons.

The challenge facing the civil engineering profession will be to make sure that we thrust ourselves forward to the heart of the game, to put ourselves in position to lead the spending of government cash and make the vision a reality.

But bear in mind that there will be many other professionals queuing up for a slice of the action.

The Institution must ensure that we are in shape to offer advice and take the lead role when it comes to implementing sensitive planning reforms.

Civil engineering firms, not architects, not surveyors, not accountants, not lawyers must be at the top of the mind when civil servants consider who will take forward this vital work.

And if we can get this right the rewards are huge. This could well be the first opportunity in decades to really reshape the way that the UK thinks about its infrastructure.

With civil engineers in charge we will be able to underline how the right solutions can boost the nation's economy through more efficient business, and dramatically improved quality of life.

Rather than simply looking at the problems in economic terms civil engineers are uniquely able to see the longer term, sustainable gains.

With such wholesale planning reforms expected, we should be looking at an opportunity to implement some quite radical solutions.

And when young people see that civil engineers, not accountants, lawyers or bankers, are responsible for creating sustainable life and sustainable wealth, they will see a profession which actually contributes in a real and tangible way to society.

And you never know, they might even be persuaded to join in.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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