Britain clearly needs more infrastructure. But where to spend the money?by Jay Elwes / March 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Both political parties agree that Britain needs more infrastructure and the National Infrastructure Council—suggested by Labour and set up by the Tories—is the symbol of that consensus. The disagreement is over where the money should be spent. Investment in economically strong areas is tempting as it yields immediate results. But it’s in the regions where growth is weaker that new infrastructure is most needed.
Below find the three pieces from the report—an interview with National Infrastructure Commissioner Bridget Rosewell, along with contributions from Stephen Kinnock and Stephen Hammond
Interview: the all-change Commissioner
Bridget Rosewell is Commissioner for the National Infrastructure Commission, which monitors and guides government decision-making on major public works. Are there any “no-brainer” projects when it comes to infrastructure? Yes, she told me. “Communications technologies.” With connectivity, “the difficult areas are rural,” she said. There is, she argued, a strong argument for putting money into areas where economic activity is strained rather than where it’s already strong.
Rosewell is also focused on energy, especially nuclear power, where the problem is cost. Is Hinkley Point in Somerset too expensive? “My personal opinion is that it is,” said Rosewell. And what can we do about it? “I’m afraid that ship’s sailed. The contracts have been written,” she said, meaning that the price of the electricity it will produce is already set—and set high.
And as for the proposed tidal lagoon in Swansea: “The proposed contract price is even higher.” Developers insist that it’s experimental and that subsequent tidal systems would be cheaper, “but that’s a hypothesis rather than a guarantee.”
“Infrastructure by itself does nothing,” she said. “You can put a bridge between A and B and if nobody’s going to use it then, well…” she said, doubtfully. “But if you put up a bridge that allows people to make trips they couldn’t otherwise make… out of that can come connections—investment activity which couldn’t otherwise happen.” Would the London’s mooted Garden Bridge have had that effect? “Frankly—personal opinion: no.”
Rosewell used to be chief advisor to the Greater London Authority, where until 2012 she focused on transport. Her tenure coincided with the 2012 Games. “I’m a sceptic about the Olympics,” she told me. Instead of regenerating the area around the Olympic Park, “the big benefit of the Olympics was in the London Overground [train] system… If you now go to somewhere like Dalston Junction, you now…