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Now it is time to act

The NCE/ICE State of the Nation Report card shows that, despite much government promise, the overall condition of the UK's infrastructure is getting worse. Antony Oliver reports.

The new government has a tough but vital task ahead of it in proving to the public that its actual and promised infrastructure spending is delivering the predicted results.

The fall in overall condition from C to C- is testimony to the continued government delays in implementing policy.

Three sectors - rail, flood defence and water - show a declining standard against only two - local roads and transport, and urban development - which are on the ascendant. The rest remain static, with just enough being done to prevent decay.

Over the last six months we have seen catastrophic infrastructure failure on the railway and natural flood disasters combine to cause havoc across the UK. Both grabbed and sustained the media headlines in a way, it is fair to say, that the industry had never seen or predicted before - prompting the NCE/ICE panel to consider flood defence as a separate sector.

But rail continues to grab the headlines. Fallout from the Hatfield rail crash was unprecedented and has destroyed Railtrack as a fund-raising force.

The public outcry over the condition of the post-privatised rail network and Railtrack's reaction of introducing widespread speed restrictions affected virtually the entire country.

Certainly there is much to do before the UK rail network can be called a decent, modern transport system. However, the consequence of Railtrack's demise is that without the ability to raise cash, the government will now inevitably be forced to step in - and a decision is needed fast.

National news coverage of the winter flooding highlighted the poor condition of much of the UK's flood defence infrastructure and also the confusion surrounding both planning policy and maintenance work financing.

However, less well publicised was the fact that most UK flood defences did actually perform as predicted - underlining the need for continued investment in repair, maintenance and renewal.

The net result is that government must implement a clear and well funded policy to ensure that the UK has the infrastructure and warning systems in place to safeguard lives and businesses in the future.

However, on the positive side, the report card does highlight that the government's urban renewal and local transport policies are at last starting to bear fruit.

The greater powers and emphasis given to local authorities coupled with more control over spending resources should increasingly deliver better local roads, public transport and urban environments.

Across the UK and across the sectors, we have the policies and promises to turn around the decline. As the panel said six months ago, 'it is now time to act'.

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