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We must deliver the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

Start digging today − it’s the truest way to silence the constant political chattering about whether or not the nation can afford to invest in major infrastructure projects.

It is a point made well this week by outgoing Crossrail chairman Doug Oakervee regarding recent speculation over the project’s future.

Well, he would say that wouldn’t he? Yes, and it’s the truth − the engineering truth.

Right now we need a bit more engineering truth. And in a week which has given us such graphic insight into the nature of political truth it will not be before time.

But let’s just get one thing straight − one engineering truth. Cancelling major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail is not the solution to the public spending crisis and will deliver little short term benefit to the UK exchequer. Politicians must be told − there is no real value in cancelling projects.

In Crossrail’s case the Treasury funding profile has always been heavily back-loaded to avoid any potential clash with other committed public spending programmes such as London 2012. Thus the reality is that even if the whole £15.9bn project was halted tomorrow, no real benefit would be felt by the chancellor for many years.

So when the Tories bang on about protecting the public purse by reviewing all major infrastructure projects − including Crossrail − should they win power next year, it is in reality something of a hollow threat.

And they know it. The engineering truth is that rather than protecting the public purse, such gestures risk damaging project confidence and so waste money.

Cancelling major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail is not the solution to the public spending crisis and will deliver little short term benefit.

What politicians must grasp is the future value of major investment. In Crossrail’s case it is investment that will enable the public to travel easily and quickly and makes doing business in the capital more efficient.

The only sad note about the whole scheme is that it has taken too long to get to this point. It has taken too long for engineers to explain their truth.

And as one correspondent alludes this week on the NCE letters page, perhaps civil engineers are guilty of being too honest generally. But had, for example, engineers been slightly less creative with the truth regarding the consequences of not protecting London from floods the whole Thames Barrier project might have been killed off at a stroke. And then where would we be?

Now of course given this week’s continuously unfolding tale of creative expense claims and down-right deceit by our elected members in the House of Commons, it is clearly a difficult path to steer.

But steer it we must. The truth is, after all, merely one man’s version of the reality. We must ensure that the engineer’s version of reality prevails.

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