Your columnist recently took part in a roundtable on Crossrail 2. Plenty of discussion around the engineering challenges was generated, but what was most striking was the sheer breadth of the conversation.
How can the project maximise the land unlocked to deal with London’s housing crisis? Who will pay and how? How will the places transformed by the line look and feel? How do existing residents feel about the changes? How should the case for further investment in London be balanced against the needs of the rest of the UK? These or similar questions will arise for any of the high speed rail schemes highlighted in this month’s special report.
This all illustrates a simple truth – there is a lot of politics involved in infrastructure and development, and if we want the best outcomes for the profession, and more importantly communities around the world, engineers must get involved.
As ICE President Sir John Armitt has observed, it simply isn’t possible to take all the politics out of infrastructure.
His work as a member of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission is an effort to manage that inevitable political process more effectively.
The ICE is at the heart of this work, bringing together the best minds in industry and academia to create a National Needs Assessment, on a 30 year horizon. This will be provided to the Commission to feed into its own needs analysis.
New Zealand, among other countries has shown the value of establishing a long term vision and strategy for infrastructure that can attract wide support and provide an easily understood narrative into which individual programmes can fit.
We know how civil engineering can transform communities and deliver huge improvements to people’s quality of life
As reported in last month’s magazine, the ICE’s Hong Kong Association has recently delivered just such a vision to its government.
Back in the UK, elections are imminent for the devolved governments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, while London will elect a new mayor. During January and February, the ICE published its manifesto for each of these elections.
Each report pursues the common themes of resilience, delivery and skills and provides decision makers with a practical 10 point plan for the next five years.
The manifestos will be followed by hustings events throughout the spring and a social media campaign #commit2infra.
So why have so many ICE members contributed so much effort and expertise to all of these projects? Because we know how civil engineering can transform communities and deliver huge improvements to people’s quality of life. Because we believe passionately that the engineering voice needs to be heard. Because the ICE has a duty to inform decisions on millions of pounds of spending on infrastructure assets, and the education and training of those who deliver and maintain them.
Or as the London Evening Standard put it in response to our manifesto “no one understands infrastructure as well as the people who build it, which is why they should be listened to even when what they say is not what you want to hear”.