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Major projects dictate headlines, but also our future

Major infrastructure projects. They’re sexy, exciting, glamorous and headline grabbing. But unfortunately, the constant focus by the media and the industry on a few “grand projects” drives many of you mad.

Mad because, in short, the daily activity for the bulk of professional civil engineers is more focused around the massive task of keeping the existing public realm in shape. It has apparently nothing to do with such “showy-offy” matters.

Certainly the news of multi-billion investment plans for high speed rail, big numbers committed to the London Underground, EdF’s plans for building new nuclear and a billion pound deal on Heathrow’s Terminal Two are great to hear given the continued economic woes of the UK.

“It is right to ask whether we need these politically inspired, public resource sapping exercises in one-upmanship”

But are they really so important, or indeed even appropriate? Post-election, government will be faced with the need to trim more than £30bn from public spending, perhaps more if the European Union is to be believed this week.

It is right to ask, as many of you do, whether we really need these politically inspired, public resource sapping exercises in regional one-upmanship.

The answer of course is no, we don’t need them. Life will go on just fine without a new north-south high speed railway or a new terminal at Heathrow. The UK will not grind to a halt without continued upgrading of London’s Tube network or the UK motorways, or without investment in a new offshore wind, wave or tidal schemes.

For the short term at least.

However, while investment in the vast job of maintaining, upgrading and efficiently operating our existing infrastructure is essential. If we are to ensure the UK remains both functioning and competitive in the longer term, new infrastructure is key.

Fortunately all sides of the political spectrum now understand this fact, and are committed to not just backing ideas but also putting in place the more innovative funding solutions needed to make them happen. And other governments around the globe agree.

“The Major Projects Hub demonstrates the scale and reach of activities now on the go in our industry and the massive way that UK civil engineering firms are involved.”

It is timely and very appropriate therefore that NCE has this week launched its new online Major Projects Hub, a comprehensive and information-packed listing of the top 100 global civil engineering projects. If you haven’t visited the Hub yet then please do so.

It demonstrates the scale and reach of activities now on the go in our industry and the massive way that UK civil engineering firms are involved in these global adventures.

We are leading the way, turning inspired ideas into vital economic drivers with UK skills at the heart of the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of major global infrastructure. We must all recognise such projects are hugely relevant to the successful career of every civil engineer.

They are not simply glamorous “bling” but actually highly valuable economic jewels.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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