View from City Road: Chesterton may have the answer

There is a poetic justice in the Government's choice of Sir Alastair Morton as its chief project hustler, or, in Whitehall parlance, chairman of the working group on the private finance initiative. The Channel tunnel would probably never have been built without his persistence and cussedness. Not only is he fed up with Britain's laggardly attitudes to big projects, as he told his Nottingham audience yesterday, but he has the expertise to deal with it.

Part of the problem, as he suggests, may be population density. But that is surely not the whole story. The compensation arrangements for people who have to be moved have never been generous, which gives them greater incentive to fight. And the whole process of project assessment is remarkably haphazard and seems to be getting worse. For example, the cost- benefit analyses underlying the building of the Victoria Line in London during the Sixties were publicly discussed. No similar work has been published for the Jubilee Line extension, Crossrail or the high-speed rail link.

The problem may, as GK Chesterton pointed out, be even more deep-seated.

Before the Roman came to Rye, or out to Severn strode,

The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.

A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,

And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire.

A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread

The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

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