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Infrastructure to rescue the world from recession

Civil engineers need to seize the initative and push for investment in infrastructure now, while politicians of all colours can see the need, says NCE editor Antony Oliver.

The Institution’s latest initiative to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group on infrastructure is to be applauded. It is a bold move with the potential to return civil engineering to the political top table.

As are its latest plans to develop select committee style hearings to help guide policy makers when targeting vital public spending. Although potentially a huge undertaking to get right, if carried out successfully, it could start to move the profession head and shoulders above other voices.

The initiatives build on an already strong platform. We are, as a profession, currently pushing at an open door – even though it sometimes feels somewhat more difficult. Hardly a day goes by without a national media story referring to the need for infrastructure investment to drive the UK out of recession. Or a story referring to the nation’s built environment needs or new government or opposition plans to boost the capacity on the railways, roads or power supplies.

And it is a similar situation the world over – at the heart of US president-elect Barack Obama’s thinking, is a trillion dollar plus investment in infrastructure. Obviously with the current economic situation everyone is up against it right now and perhaps even feeling quite distant from any short to medium term cheer, as our lead story shows.

Certainly it is reassuring to see that Crossrail continues to plough on. The positive talk about getting this vital scheme going is starting to make way for actual progress towards letting contracts. Notwithstanding this progress, it remains clear that talk about the need for investment in new high speed rail, new motorways, airport capacity, power stations and water treatment plants is, after all, just talk.

The real challenge is to convert all this aspiration into real commitment to actual projects. And if past experiences are anything to go by, this certainly will be a challenge of immense proportions. We know how difficult it is to negotiate the complex and competing demands faced by local and central governments. We should not forget the recent example of Manchester’s failure in December to win support for its vital £3bn package of public transport.

It should serve as an important reminder that, as NCE warned ahead of the public referendum, even the most blindingly obvious proposals do not come easy. Hence the potentially huge value of the ICE initiatives. Here we have mechanisms which really can win early cross party support and understanding for projects which should help to ease their path from talk to reality. And that will be good not only for the whole industry but also for the whole nation.

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