Britain decides its next government on Thursday, but what impact will infrastructure have on voters’ decisions? We take a look at some projects in key seats.
Bath cable car
Conservative leader Theresa May came under fierce criticism for not turning up to a televised TV debate last Wednesday, but where was she? Well, she was campaigning in Bath – a constituency which could be swayed by a controversial cable car plan. A staunch Lib Dem seat until Don Foster retired in 2015, Tory Ben Howlett swooped in with a 3,833 majority. But plans for the cable car over the Widcombe area of the Unesco-listed city have been met with huge local protests. House builder Curo wants to construct the system, saying will relieve congested roads leading to its new development. Opponents say it will be a blot on the landscape and they have mocked up the image above to demonstrate this. Howlett says he is against the plan, but when New Civil Engineer asked the local Lib Dems there was no response.
Anti-Heathrow expansion Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith misjudged the post-Brexit mood last December. Standing as an independent candidate, he lost his 23,000 majority in Richmond Park to Lib Dem Sarah Olney during a by-election, triggered after he quit Parliament in protest over government backing for Heathrow expansion. But Brexit anger seems to have cooled, and the third runway could be the deciding factor for west London constituents concerned by noise and air pollution increases. Olney and Goldsmith are against expansion: however, while the Lib Dems are opposed to airport expansion at a national level, the Conservatives are fully behind Heathrow’s vision for an operational third runway by 2025. A vote for Goldsmith could be a vote for expansion in the eyes of voters.
Impression of the completed Mersey Gateway Bridge
Who dislikes a sparkling new bridge? Well, constituents in Warrington South who will use it every day could pay up to £1,000 a year in tolls for the new Mersey Gateway crossing in Liverpool. The toll is to pay for the £1.86bn cost of construction by FCC Construcción and Kier, as well as future maintenance. This issue could see Conservative candidate David Mowat’s slim 2,750 majority cut in favour of Labour, which plans to scrap the tolls for local residents. Mowat claims the tolls are necessary – unlike the Severn Bridge tolls which prime minister Theresa May has said she will scrap if re-elected, now that its construction bill has now been paid off.
Trudy Harrison this year became the first Tory MP for Copeland for more than 80 years and now has to defend her seat against Labour’s Gillian Troughton, who she beat by little more than 2,000 seats in February. Former Labour MP Jamie Reed stood down to work at Sellafield nuclear power station, and Harrison’s support for a proposed new nuclear plant at nearby Moorside was often credited with her success at the by-election. Her campaign website says “we need to ensure a new nuclear plant at Moorside, and the 21,000 jobs created by it, come to Cumbria”. Although the Labour manifesto says it will “support further nuclear projects”, a perception of the Tories being more behind the project than other parties could still decide this seat on Thursday, especially when there is such uncertainty about its future after developers Nugen said it was reviewing its plans.
High Speed 2
High Speed 2 (HS2) was voted the Conservatives’ most unpopular policy by party members on ConservativeHome website. The Tories have a raft of MPs opposing HS2, as the government presses ahead with the £55.7bn project. So that leaves voters torn, including the Stone constituency in Staffordshire. On one side, HS2 will run a mere 4km away from the pretty market centre creating years of construction disruption and in the future at least three high speed trains whizzing past every hour. On the other, journey times from Crewe and Birmingham will be slashed. Defending the seat is Tory Sir Bill Cash, a staunch opponent of the scheme. But is a vote for him a vote for a party in favour of the scheme? At a national level Labour is pro-HS2 although prospective candidate Sam Hales neglects to mention this on his campaign website.
Carlisle floods December 2015
In December 2015, Storm Desmond hit the Cumbrian town of Carlisle, overtopping £38M flood defences and causing devastation for the local population. At the time Conservative candidate John Stevenson, who has held the seat since 2010, called for an overhaul of government flooding policy and pushed Parliament for better flooding insurance for his constituents. But although £43M has been committed to flood defence schemes in Cumbria, with £25M set aside for Carlisle, the 2021 investment deadline fuels resentment among some voters annoyed by the slow pace of development for flood defence schemes, which could help the Labour candidate Ruth Alcroft. Frustrated voters might back Labour, which received a significant 38% share of the vote in the last General Election, compared to Stevenson’s 44%.
The air that we breathe is increasingly becoming a political issue, but is it significant enough to swing the vote? Recent analysis of government data by Greenpeace shows that nearly half of the key marginal seats in the 2017 General Election are in areas affected by illegal levels of roadside air pollution. These constituencies include England’s most marginal seat, Derby North, where Labour lost by just 41 votes in 2015 to Conservative candidate Amanda Solloway. But has the issue hit home with the electorate? While pollution is a big issue in cities such as London, Derby Telegraph agenda editor Zena Hawley told New Civil Engineer: “I’ve heard it alluded to it very little, it hasn’t come up in the hustings. It might become more of an issue with city living coming on stream.” On a global level, the news of the US pulling out of the Paris climate agreement has been met with dismay, but it’s not a vote swinger in Derby just yet.