This week’s celebration of the M25 demonstrates the impact that infrastructure can have on a nation to underpin the economy, shape and develop society.
It is fitting therefore that we also report on the bold plans to create a £50bn integrated transport, logistics and energy hub in the Thames Estuary — a plan that will also deliver economic growth and potentially reshape the way we live.
Because back in the 1980s who would have thought that the M25, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last week, would become such a vital part of the UK’s infrastructure. In fact, not so long before that, who would have said the scheme was even necessary?
Yet today we continue to widen and improve the route in the knowledge that easing movement of people and goods in and around the capital and across the south east, is a sure way to boost the nation’s economy.
Though delivered piecemeal — almost, perhaps, by stealth - the development of the M25 did demonstrate a bold vision for future need. Its existence underlines the fact that economic activity relies on the lubricating effect of a step change in infrastructure.
The Thames Hub proposal by Halcrow and Foster & Partners will provide similar 21st century lubrication. It is bold and it is big. But without question it provides a much needed vision for how we need to move.
“We face 21st century challenges that the short term patching up of our aging infrastructure cannot overcome,” the report explains. “It is an opportunity to reassert Britain’s role as an international gateway for people, freight and communications.”
And when you examine the plan and its ambition for the UK across transport, energy, logistics, communication and the environment, it really is the logical step for an island nation searching for competitive advantage. It truly begs the question of why, given the clear social and economic returns of such an integrated plan, have we not invested before?
Certainly the technical challenge of construction is immense but by no means unachievable or even unique. Similar has been achieved — by UK engineering expertise — all around the world already. And funding, even in this current global downturn, is not a show stopper given the returns on offer.
The challenge, sadly, remains around willingness to act and cut through the vested interests backing the status quo. That has to change. As Lord Foster points out in the report: “We have to have the courage, the political will, the intelligence, the common sense to invest now in our infrastructure.”
If prime minister David Cameron is serious in his call this week for an “all-out mission” to kick-start infrastructure projects and revive the economy he should absolutely start with this Hub.