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Time to dust off those shelved mega-projects

Last week Crossrail was brought back from the dead. The week before, wave power was given its first major public sector boost for 40 years. And this week it's the turn of the Severn Tidal Barrage.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

Maybe this government really does seem to be getting its head around the idea that infrastructure investment drives the economy.

On the other hand, as was pointed out to me recently, the 2012 London Olympics is still really the only major infrastructure project initiated by the Blair administration.

That said, the rekindling of interest in these long-awaited projects does make you start to ponder just what other previously abandoned dead-duck infrastructure projects will now be reinvestigated.

I’m half expecting Ruth Kelly to announce a funding package to bring Concord back into service. Wouldn’t that be good?

But the Severn Barrage is far from a live project yet. For all the flurry of excitement generated by the announcement to fund research into the viability of tidal power, we are still talking about a project potentially costing upwards of £14bn. Even the most optimistic Tory party accountant would blanch at finding that sum from the public coffers.

Crossrail is not completely out of the starting blocks either. Despite this week receiving the much trailed official Gordon Brown blessing – "I want the project to go ahead," he told us – and despite eleventh hour commitment from the City of London to cough up a few hundred million to underpin this £16bn project, it isn’t go quite yet.

So regardless of the current energy crisis/global warming driven agenda behind tidal power, the reality is that, as always, it will take a very serious amount of engineering skill and political manoeuvring to get this £14bn monster to the starting line.

The latest tidal power review is only days old and already there’s a row about how such a project should be funded. Should it be public or part private…. And for all the threats about the need to approach the environmental hurdles with an open and broad mind, clearly these will not go away quietly.

Yet just like Crossrail, Severn Barrage is a project that really should happen. Certainly we have got to get the scale right and balance the environmental pros and cons, but of all the grand engineering feats seen over the last couple of decades, this would be the grandest and most worthy of them all.

After all, anything that removes the need to build two nuclear power stations can't be all bad.

So the challenge is straightforward. First we have to get the civil engineering right. Then make the business and political case.

The Crossrail experience shows that if we get this right, no infrastructure project should ever be considered a dead duck.

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