The last four years have seen much talk about the need for infrastructure spending in the UK - but few tangible projects for the civil engineering profession to get its teeth into.
The first Labour government for 18 years certainly made all the right noises. A string of reviews, promises and plans on infrastructure needs and integrated transport has raised the industry up the agenda. But, in truth, it has never actually delivered much in the way of cash to make things happen.
This was born out in a recent study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which highlights that under Labour, infrastructure spending has fallen in real terms. But there is much promise of things to come, especially if the 10 year transport plan is allowed to produce real spending and investment.
Notable government successes in the last four years have been the Channel Tunnel Rail Link rescue and the hospital investment programme. But generally Labour has raised expectations without delivering.
Perhaps too much was expected. Its slow response could have reflected Labour's need to get a grip on key policies while keeping the economy under control. What is clear is that if, as is widely anticipated, Labour wins this time around, it will need to be bolder and more decisive. The next government must avoid dashing hopes raised by four years of growing prosperity accompanied by studies and statements of intent.
With so much on the agenda for engineers, it is vital they challenge their prospective MPs to discuss key issues about the delivery of these expectations. We hope this NCE civil engineering manifesto will help you do this.
Flooding Local flood defence funding must be reformed.
Many local authorities are dreading next winter because they cannot afford to repair vital flood defences. Although councils can reclaim cash spent on emergency repairs, it takes 12 months for central government to pay up. Last winter's heavy rains revealed the flaw in this arrangement as many local authorities were left short after spending vital emergency cash. The next government must recognise that flood defence is placing increasing demands on local government budgets and speed up emergency repair payments.
The Environment Agency must have more power to implement its flood defence spending recommendations The flood defences approval system must be reformed so that efforts to protect high risk population areas are not undermined by vested interests in neighbouring low risk areas. The Environment Agency also needs more power to push through recommended increases in local government spending in areas at risk from flooding.
Strategies must be developed to recognise that some flood defences will always be inadequate.
Government must recognise that climate change is making mass construction of flood defences an unrealistic option. Instead it should develop strategies for dealing with overtopped defences in areas where flooding is inevitable.
Rail The SRA must prioritise rail improvement projects Privatisation has allowed the railways to decline in the face of rising traffic volumes. Railtrack has finally accepted that it is unable to handle the huge volume of investment needed to upgrade the national rail network and that it must hand over this responsibility to the Strategic Rail Authority.
The SRA has come up with proposals to upgrade the network using privately funded design, build, finance and transfer (DBFT) contracts. But it has been slow to prioritise projects, leaving investors, contractors and consultants in the dark about where to start and when.
Indecisiveness within SRA's senior management team has contributed to this.
The next government must strengthen the SRA's management team, possibly even replacing chief executive Mike Grant and chairman Sir Alastair Morton.
New managers should have the confidence to kick start a privately funded investment programme which will deliver real improvements to the network by the end of the decade.
Railtrack must be forced to speed up its systems for approving new technology Many people have died on the railways because of Railtrack's failure to approve modern track side warning systems. The next government should ensure its approvals regime for new technology is streamlined, so that systems cleared for use in other European Union states can be approved more quickly. This streamlining should also be applied to modern signalling technology which, if adopted, will make train journeys quicker and the rail network more efficient.
Water Water companies should be prevented from selling out to not-for-profit mutuals Tight regulation has ensured that water companies invest in their infrastructure, bringing it up to European standards. The next government should resist attempts by water companies to wriggle out of future investment obligations by selling water operation businesses to non profit making trusts. Instead it should endeavour to keep water companies as Stock Exchange listed utilities as a way of encouraging them to compete with each other for funding by becoming increasingly efficient.
Local transport Congestion charging schemes must be brought on line.
Initiatives enshrined in the Transport Bill to charge motorists to enter towns and cities and park at work are floundering. Local authorities are not coming forward to introduce the schemes which are vital to cut car congestion. The government needs to show more leadership and encouragement to drive such schemes forward.
Bus companies must be allowed to work together The government should quickly abolish the law that forbids bus companies from talking to each other with a view to developing better services for passengers.
The Office for Fair Trading has promised a block exemption from the Competition Act for bus companies and this should be confirmed as quickly as possible.
Increased use of lower speed limits for urban roads and safe routes to school More initiatives are needed to help meet the government's road safety target of nearly halving deaths and serious injuries on the roads. This should include driving forward a national safe routes to schools programme and 30km/hr speed limits on dangerous urban roads.
National transport smart card scheme A national smart card system is needed across all forms of public transport throughout the UK. This would be inter-operable between different local transport schemes with every local authority forced to join in. A similar scheme has been successfully developed in the Netherlands.
Roads Hybrid road bills should be introduced to speed delivery of infrastructure.
Although the government plans to build 100 bypasses and widen 576km of motorway over the next 10 years, doubts remain about whether it can deliver. The Highways Agency has said it wants to cut the time it takes to build a road by involving contractors earlier. For major road schemes seen to be in the national interest, hybrid road bills should be introduced to avoid long, drawn out public inquiries.
An independent Roads Inspectorate must be set up An independent inspectorate made up of road experts should be set up to scrutinise the performance of the Highways Agency and local authorities and to oversee spending. The body would judge performance on issues such as cutting congestion, road building, safety and maintenance and would develop a set of performance indicators for the road network: if the performance of public bodies was seen to be falling short, the inspectorate would have the teeth to take action.
The 10 year transport plan must be reassessed and delivered.
The government thrilled civil engineers last July with the promise of £180bn investment in transport over 10 years. Ten months on, the plan needs to be reassessed as soon as possible as some of the fundamental premises of the plan no longer apply.
Road tolls must be implemented.
The government should reverse its recent decision not to consider motorway road tolling over the next 10 years. The technology to develop a robust electronic or satellite based scheme exists and experts predict that a scheme would take about five years to develop. Road tolling is a fairer way to pay for motoring than high motoring and fuel taxes.
Motorists would pay more for driving into the most congested parts of the network and driving costs could be reduced for people in rural areas who rely on their cars.
Urban regeneration Government funding must be better co-ordinated There needs to be closer working between all government departments with a finger in the regeneration pie. Funds are available from the Home Office, Department of Culture, Media & Sport and Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions. More co-ordination is needed for better use of funds.
Urban and transport planning needs to be more closely integrated.
The government should take up proposals from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to develop Transport Development Areas under which dense, mixed use development is encouraged in areas near to public transport hubs. More homes, offices, shops and leisure facilities around these areas will cut down the need for people to use their cars. Public transport corridors should be encouraged as prime areas for development.
Safety An NCE construction safety survey outlined many areas where the government can act to improve safety on site (NCE 22 February). Respondents said that there should be more supervisors on site and that construction workers need better health and safety training. Clients need more training to understand their safety responsibilities and designers could do more to design out health and safety risks and be more flexible in their designs.
National construction competence passport scheme The government should introduce a national competence passport for the construction industry. It should lay down a statutory minimum period between tender award and start of work to allow time for the client to provide the contractor with all the information it needs to develop a robust safety plan.
Health & Safety Executive funding must be bolstered More inspectors are needed so the Health & Safety Executive can make more random site visits and to carry out more prosecutions. Safety league tables should be introduced rewarding those construction clients, consultants and contractors with the best safety and welfare record. The worst would be shamed into performing better and forced to spend more on managing health and safety.
Waste Incentives must be introduced to encourage recycling and recovery.
At present the UK buries and burns more of its waste than many other European countries.
If this is to change and we are to hit our ambitious targets of recycling 30% of waste by the end of the decade, new markets for these waste products need to be identified and supported by government. Incentives must also be introduced to encourage energy recovery from any disposal still necessary.
Subsidies and grants are needed to construct new waste handling facilities.
The UK does not have sufficient modern facilities for recycling waste or recovering energy on the scale required to meet current targets for reducing the amount of waste put into landfill. Cash is needed to encourage private firms to invest in new technology.
A governmentbacked campaign is needed to educate the public about waste and recycling.
Too little is understood by the public about what it can do to help reduce the amount of waste generated in the UK. A concerted and well planned national and local campaign is needed to continuously reinforce the message.
Red tape needs to be removed to allow modernisation.
Planning legislation must be simplified and unified to enable new waste infrastructure to be brought on stream without being thwarted by bureaucracy. Local communities must be given the information to allow them to embrace new waste disposal technology without fears for health and the environment.
Employment Government sponsorship is needed to boost the construction industry's image.
The industry is suffering from the massive drop in the number of young people choosing careers in construction.
The rise in workload now makes the skill shortage acute and, in a few specialist areas, potentially disastrous. Action is needed to solve the problem right now and to safeguard and guarantee the future workforce.
Education programmes must be funded to encourage the study of science and engineering in schools Too many teachers, parents and school children do not know about the opportunities offered by careers in civil engineering and construction. Resources must be made available to boost the teaching of engineering related subjects at school and to give parents and teachers the necessary information to help with career choices.
Tuition fees for further education students studying engineering courses must be waived.
Students must be encouraged to take university courses in sujects like engineering which have strong vocational content. The removal of tuition fees for such studies would encourage students by releasing them from debt taken on to fund their studies.
Funding is needed to help boost equal opportunities in construction.
Investment must be made to help businesses encourage more women, ethnic minorities and disabled into the industry. Realistic targets must be set and rewards provided for those meeting them.
Environment and sustainability
Fiscal incentives need to be introduced to encourage sustainable development
Construction firms and their clients must be given real financial rewards for adopting sustainable designs and policies when building, maintaining and operating infrastructure.
Government must clarify its integrated transport policy objectives.
Confusion surrounding the last government's proposed integrated transport policies has left much of the public alienated and of the view that they must choose between private cars and public transport.
This policy must be more clearly explained. Greater subsidies and incentives must be offered to enable local authorities to invest in the new infrastructure and to help the public make better transport choices New infrastructure is needed to help meet Kyoto CO 2emission targets Old power generation and waste incineration technology must be replaced with new to improve efficiency and reduce CO 2emissions to the atmosphere.
Transport, energy generation and industry policy must be formed with these targets in mind.
Energy Real policy and action is needed to secure UK's energy future.
A decision needs to be made on the UK's future sources of power and in particular how fossil fuels will be replaced.
Either nuclear power, and the inevitable waste disposal dilemma, must be embraced with serious new funding or massive investment be made to find and harness other alternative power sources.
Government must take steps to avoid the UK losing its energy self sufficiency.
Market forces mean that the UK is becoming increasingly dependent on other countries for is energy needs. The government must ensure this does not endanger the nation's ability to function independently.
Fuel taxation policy must be more transparent.
The recent fuel crisis highlighted the public's confusion over fuel taxation.
The government should take steps to make it more obvious what this taxation is used for; either by hypothecating directly back into the transportation network or by ploughing the revenue into other environmental policies.