Dave the Builder -can he fix it? The View from the Bridge

Muscular mayors, community benefits, the Olympics, national planning and the Bob the Builder theme tune were all discussed at the latest View from The Bridge from Newgate Communications on infrastructure investment.
The catalyst for the debate was polling from IPSOS Mori which found that the number one worry for chief executives was the state of the UK’s infrastructure. The timing couldn’t have been better – only six days after the Chancellor announced major investment in housing, roads and flood defences, and the day after the second reading of the infrastructure bill.
Lord Adonis, Labour’s shadow infrastructure minister, led off, stating that he was an optimist. The Olympics showed the UK can deliver successful infrastructure projects and HS2 is turning into a success story. Not surprisingly a lot of the work is London-centric – this is because of the support of successive mayors and the ability of London to bear some of the cost. What is missing is the machinery for a national planning infrastructure and he would be supportive of a proposal for a National Roads Company, akin to Network Rail, with a five year financial settlement that takes some of the politics out of decision making.
Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, the oil and gas trade body, thanked Newgate for reminding him of the Bob the Builder theme tune, which is now implanted on his brain. He pointed out that power capacity was at a historic low and that the UK has not built anything major in energy for 30 or 40 years and now there needs to be between £200 and £300 billion of investment in energy projects. He said he wasn’t going to continue attacking the planning system – it is what it is – but pointed out that whatever we decide national, planning decisions are made locally. Therefore there needs to be education about where energy comes from so people can make informed decisions about investment.
As chairman of Crossrail, Terry Morgan, was able to point to the success of the £16 billion Crossrail project, which is on schedule to its 120 km of new track by 2018. He said that it was crucial to engage locally so that communities and councils can be brought in to the programme and shown how it can deliver on regeneration and skills – for example 400 new apprentices have been taken on by contractors. However one of the key factors of success has been the support of London and its capacity to raise funds for the project.
There was a great deal of debate about how you persuade local communities to support projects that may cause a large amount of disruption. Lord Adonis said there needed to be bigger dividends for local areas while Terry Morgan pointed out that large projects ignore the detail at their peril, and local issues and interests had to be addressed. Ken Cronin pointed out that in energy we are moving from large projects to 100s of smaller projects that touch local communities.
One of the key discussions for the future is how the UK deals with a growing London with a population surging towards 10 million. Is this something we should embrace? Lord Adonis pointed out that other cities had benefited from strong leadership – notably Manchester – and that devolved power to local mayors did not hinder infrastructure investment.
One big message that came from the speakers is that indecision help no-one – once people can see the vision and the end result they feel they can support a project. Yes we can!

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