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Let's not get complacent about infrastructure spending

For all the economic gloom there's plenty of infrastructure work for civil engineers, says NCE editor Antony Oliver
For all Chancellor Alastair Darling's perhaps understandable gloom this week, we should not overlook the fact that there is an awful lot of work to do in building and maintaining the UK's infrastructure.
Yes, the housing and commercial construction sectors have taken a massive nose-dive as the credit crunch continues to bite lumps out of the banking system.
Yes, there are concerns that an economic slow down could hit central government spending and that local authority revenues will dry up without private sector receipts. As Gordon Brown said this week "when it comes to public spending you can't just wave a magic wand to conjure up the money".
And yes, the Labour Party conference will always deliver a certain amount of unrealistic hyperbolae regarding how rosy the world of public spending will be in the short to medium term.
But we cannot hide from the fact that there is a huge amount of funded and planned civil engineering and infrastructure to get on with.
Despite the tough choices Brown talks about we will, he insisted, still see "investment in schools, transport and hospitals".
And his Labour future will, he added, see "new nuclear power, an unprecedented increase in renewables and investment in clean coal to end the dictatorship of oil and to avert catastrophic climate change".
Then there's the £16bn Crossrail, the £9bn Olympics, £6bn motorway improvements, £2bn a year on the rail network, £7bn on the Tube, £4bn at Heathrow. And this week we hear that the £800M a year planned for flood defence will have to be increased and Heathrow's third runway looks set to be approved by Christmas.
But really, can we still afford it?
Well it is interesting to take a look at the US government's current predicament by way of comparison. On the one hand it has just committed something in the region of $1 trillion to underwrite banking bad debts. Meanwhile, as American Society of Civil Engineers president David G. Mongan points out this week, it also faces an on-going (and growing) £1.6 trillion backlog of work to maintain its infrastructure.
By comparison the UK is in great shape - on both counts. And in both cases, the amount of money required is certainly less of an issue than finding political commitment to tackle the problems.
Perhaps even more so in a down turn good engineering design and robust efficient management remain key to success.
As we heard from Michael Ingall, chief executive of developer Allied London this week, good solid engineering not fashionable architecture will rule the future. Success in the UK will be measured not by glitz and glamour but by quality engineering, and client satisfaction.
This is all good to hear - and probably something that we already knew. Investment in quality, tangible infrastructure can and must be the driver for economic recovery - both in the UK and the US. Just don't stop making the case.

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