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We need action on infrastructure and we need it now

What will you be doing in 2025? Where will you be living? How and where do you plan to travel? Will you still have a job? If you are anything like me then the answer is most probably: “Absolutely no idea − I hope I survive through to Christmas!”

Which sadly is perhaps why so many new UK infrastructure projects − and project ideas − are appearing all at once at the moment. Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without some big new spending plan popping up in the national media.

In addition to the £20bn-plus high speed rail plan, the £20bn Severn tidal barrage and the £2.4bn Hatfield clean coal power station, we now have Boris Island, the new £40bn airport-come-flood defence-come-tidal power barrage in London’s Thames Estuary popping back on to the political radar.

“While it is heartwarming to hear such discussions, I can’t help but be slightly suspicious about the validity of the rash of promises.”

While it is heartwarming to hear such discussions, I can’t help but be slightly suspicious about the validity of the rash of promises. The serious side to all this, of course, is the need for increased and continued investment in the nation’s infrastructure. And fortunately there are few politicians around today who would argue otherwise.

The trouble is that as we move towards a General Election there is a risk that we are just being presented with vote-winning ideals rather than real commitment to a properly funded future.

So while I have absolutely no problem with planning ahead, I think we have really got to start setting our sights a little bit closer to the here and now.

I am aware of the problems. I’ve heard the explanations as to why it’s impossible to build a new high speed rail link or tidal barrage or power station in anything less than 15 to 20 years. And I am sure that such conservative programming is done with the best intentions and knowledge of public finance constraints.

“We have to switch our thinking − and switch the thinking of the government − toward action now not action tomorrow.”

But it has no place in this post-banking crash, climate change-threatened 21st century world in which the next 10 years will be critical. We have to switch our thinking − and switch the thinking of the government − toward action now not action tomorrow.

That means stronger leadership that is prepared to take tough decisions underpinned by better, clearer advice. Which is where civil engineers come in.

In the next few weeks the new chief construction adviser will be announced. When coupled with the work being carried out by the ICE to help guide ministers and officials towards the most effective policies, we should be in great shape to provide this vital advice. The key thing is to drive forward real action on infrastructure. And I mean action now, not in 10 to 20 years.

If we believe that building a high speed rail network, a new smart power grid, revamping our flood defences, developing tidal power or carbon capture and storage technologies is important, then let’s get on with it. Just as they are already doing in China.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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