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Prepare, equip and make Britain ready for a stronger future

Goods news! The government and the nation have at last woken up to the link between investment in a decent national infrastructure and a thriving economy.

All of a sudden the creation, maintenance and renewal of the UK's infrastructure has been catapulted onto the political radar as everyone's best friend.

Speaking to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference this week Gordon Brown promised "a long-term approach to our transport and infrastructure where we must – and will – continue to step up our investment in major projects."

His declared commitment to the construction of roads, railways, power stations (probably nuclear ones) and housing, came just days after the long-awaited government support for BAA's planned third runway for Heathrow.

"We have to respond to a clear business imperative and increase capacity at our airports," Brown told the CBI. "And this week we demonstrated our determination not to shirk the long-term decisions."

It was, he added, all part of the plan to "prepare, equip, and make Britain ready for a stronger future".

As if that wasn't enough trumpet blowing for infrastructure, transport minister Rosie Winterton this week also announced the local authority transport settlement showing another £4bn for local roads and transport infrastructure over the next three years.

Her statement, of course, followed hot on the heels of the RAC Foundation's report on congestion this week and its call for a £50bn fund spend to quadruple annual spending on road construction, which is all underpinned by national road-user charging.

The CBI also called for the go-ahead of new power stations construction within 12 months, and a radical new approach to carbon pricing as a driver for more efficient infrastructure.

While these declarations are just talk right now and have yet to translate into real hard cash and action, it is good news for civil engineering – news we must capitalise on.

And with this in mind, it was perhaps then even better news this week to hear confirmation of the Planning Bill as proposed by government in the summer.

This new legislation in many ways holds the key to delivering the aspirations discussed so laudably elsewhere. It promises to fast-track major infrastructure projects through the planning system and bring the average time for a decision to less than a year. This legislation is critical for engineers if we are to lead and deliver the nation's infrastructure aspirations. And we must be central to its implementation.

So it is great to hear confirmation from government that everyone will indeed be part of the new Infrastructure Planning Commission when it is established in 2009. At last, the government appears to be listening.

Antony Oliver is NCE's Editor


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