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Transport: good for London is good for us all


Why should civil engineers living outside the capital be even remotely interested in the London mayoral elections?

After all, with just a week to go, the subject is still not exactly top of the mind for most of those actually preparing to vote.

The answer comes down to two things - size and scale.

That said, it is probably fair to say that to most of the 15M or so people living and working in the capital, the creation of a mayor's office has not really changed their lives significantly. The promise and optimism for radical change and investment in infrastructure four years ago has not really materialised yet.

And civil engineers in and around the capital will certainly be aware that the gap between infrastructure need and infrastructure delivery remains wide. We have heard much talk but so far there has been precious little grand scale delivery.

But let's not be completely negative. As a Londoner I am fully aware that we now have congestion charging in the central zone and am a huge fan of the scheme. It was a radical idea boldly imposed against a backdrop of doubt. And we have seen that in its small way, the charge has halted the rise in private cars and improved journey times across the capital.

Yet we have not seen much radical thought to boost public transport in return. Instead we have buses - in abundance.

There are brand new double deckers, single deckers, 'bendy' buses and even hydrogen power varieties to choose from. And we have a mass of newly painted lanes in which to run them.

What we have not had is transport infrastructure schemes that will really make a difference to the capital. At the risk of repeating the obvious, where is Crossrail, Thameslink or the East London Line extension?

After all, it is such grand schemes that the London mayor should focus on totally, rather than fiddling at the edges with buses and traffic management.

That is not to say it is necessarily all current incumbent Ken Livingstone's fault. He will no doubt argue that things would have been different had the upgrade of the Underground been put under his control. Or if central government gave up its whip hand on such major schemes. He has, of course, been a vocal supporter of all three of these projects.

All of which makes it even stranger for those looking into the capital from afar. London is a big and wealthy city - it therefore needs big transport investment. Devolution was supposed to have been about putting local decisions into the hands of local people. For the mayor to be able only to provide vocal support is a nonsense.

But like it or not, transport infrastructure in London is a national issue. And it is vital for the whole country that London's government is totally committed to revamping the capital's transport infrastructure - particularly if we are serious about getting the 2012 Olympic Games.

But putting the Olympics aside, if we fail to deliver a decent transport infrastructure in the capital it will unquestionably affect the UK's ability to do business and generate wealth.

Which makes it vital that the whole civil engineering profession takes a interest in what is going on in the capital and does what it can to influence and assist the incumbent mayor - whoever he may be after next week's election - to fight for transport schemes.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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