Looking far into the future (the joy of infrastructure)

On the back of yesterday’s comments from Ed Balls on the Labour Party’s ambitions for a National Infrastructure Commission, I wrote this piece for the Chamberlain Files: http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/is-a-national-infrastructure-commission-the-answer/

There is a key issue here to my mind which is whether such a Commission will be able to break through 2 major issues that inflict difficulties on planning and delivering infrastructure:

1. The naysayers, nimbys, cynics and so on who tell us that we cannot afford to invest in the long-term benefits, that the individual should triumph over wider society, that the forecasts are wildly inaccurate, that because you cannot say exactly what will happen in 10+ years time you therefore cannot invest in anything that far away…

2. The ability/opportunity/necessity to enable major infrastructure investment outside of London.

The first problem can be addressed with less political interference/fear and more objective drive and evidence – a promising sign for a Commission that could provide a long-term and well-evidenced view.  A 50 year strategy might be a bit tricky but perhaps better coordination of objectives and delivery could be a major benefit.

The second is perhaps less spoken but more critical.  From a Birmingham perspective, we get told a lot about High Speed 2 and the New Street station development but look to the major station rebuilds in London: St Pancras, King’s Cross, Blackfriars, London Bridge plus the huge investment in Crossrail and Thameslink – plus the inevitable next major project that will be Crossrail 2; but look now, London is already pushing for a Crossrail 3 – see http://www.ciht.org.uk/en/media-centre/news/index.cfm/Looking-Ahead-to-Crossrail3

We need to see more of that sort of thinking across the rest of the UK.  Today, Birmingham launched a master plan for a major redevelopment around the Snow Hill, Colmore Business District area in the city centre – see http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/birmingham-launches-600-million-masterplan-to-become-global-professional-services-hub/ and this follows on from major planning work undertaken including Birmingham Connected and the Big City Plan

But do we lose out because London gets its plans squared up, agreed, and, partially funded from local revenues?  Network Rail give the impression that London and South East are easier to justify while the West Midlands seems to struggle to get major investment in its routes and stations.  Snow Hill station and car park are a desperate sight – especially given the former glory of the old station that got mothballed and then reopened in a somewhat austere and minimal development focused more on the car park above than the trains below.

Hopefully this can change but will the £600m Snow Hill master plan point the way for Birmingham to get more of a grip over its destiny, bringing in investment and growing the local and regional economy for the benefit of everyone in the wider conurbation?  We need to and I am sure we all hope so.  It was being touted as Birmingham’s Canary Wharf, although this areas would connect the central business area and city centre with the enormous potential of the Jewellery and Gun Quarters.  It also requires a major statement of intent in addressing the A38 that still divides the city core from the rest of the city.

So we are talking about our Crossrails 2 and 3 perhaps (and perhaps I should flag up my previous blogs on developing the CrossCity network…!), now we need to make sure they happen…

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