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A missed opportunity to reform the UK's infrastructure

Nick Tyler

Professor Nick Tyler, UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering

My initial feeling is that this is the budget as we expected it with no opportunity taken to respond to the challenge of reforming the UK’s infrastructure, either as a means of supporting employment or in order to provide long term support for the operation of the country. The need to deal with an ageing infrastructure – in transport, communications, water/wastewater healthcare, education and so on – and its ability to withstand the effects of a rapidly changing climate is a matter of major concern, not least to HM Treasury because of the huge costs that will be involved over the next few decades.

The £200 million for funding new rail projects is perhaps unfairly pictured by the example of track doubling between Swindon and Kemble – important for the local people possibly, but is this really a national priority in a time of financial restraint?

In terms of duties, reducing fuel duty and abolishing the fuel duty escalator send a message of political smoothness but would seem to work against the general sense that we should be encouraging people to travel less, in more carbon-efficient ways and the fuel stabiliser (to offset externally driven price rises) also provides reassurance (especially to rural communities who are much more reliant than urban residents on private car travel), but sends a signal of maintaining the carbon status quo.

Perhaps more concerning still, the “fast-track planning for major infrastructure” will almost certainly make strategic planning very much more difficult. This is not to say that the present planning system is perfect, but reducing the democratic accountability while at the same time removing the national – and even regional – overview of policy will encounter the danger that national priorities – e.g. on carbon emissions, transport etc. – will be too easily undermined by locally-focused preferences.

Nick Tyler is Chadwick Professor of Civil Engineering and Head of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at UCL.  He can be contacted here.

Page last modified on 24 mar 11 12:20