Building more is not the easy answer. If it was, we'd have done it already

With each new growth-friendly infrastructure project comes a thousand caveats

Related Topics

I’m not saying infrastructure is a bad idea, exactly, but if it really were the answer to all our problems with the economy, wouldn’t we have built it by now? Plus it leads politicians into temptation and to trespass upon cliché, as they get all gooey about shovel-ready projects and groundbreaking initiatives.

Not only that, but it is a horribly unspecific, latinate word. Under-structure. Why don’t we just call it that, then everyone would know what we mean? That is, a high-speed railway in a deep tunnel all the way from the new underground London airport to Scotland. Putting everything underground would solve an awful lot of planning problems, come to think of it. We could have hobbit-houses all over the formerly “environmentally uninteresting” fields of oilseed rape that would now be interesting because they would be all bumpy.

So let us say what we mean and realise that we are not so much in favour of it as we thought we were. Infrastructure means airports. You know, that third runway at Heathrow that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said, in their manifestos, that they were against, and which Labour was in favour of, in government, before it was against, in opposition. There is a reason that all three parties are against it, which is that it is a bad idea.

Air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of global warming gases. A developed country such as the UK has to draw the line somewhere and say we don’t need any more airport capacity, that we should use what we have more efficiently. Fortunately, Heathrow expansion is never going to happen, for the simple fact that 30 per cent of people in the entire European Union already affected by airport noise live near Heathrow. Boris Island is a wildly expensive, locally ungreen scheme, that will also never happen, or so we can hope.

Infrastructure means roads. We have been round this roundabout already. We know now that building roads creates more traffic. Planning law rightly makes it harder and harder to build them anyway, forcing us, as with air travel, to use the existing network more efficiently.

Infrastructure means railways. Good. We like railways. They are green and more middle-class than roads. Lots of little railways, please. But instead we are being offered HS2, a monster project, already vastly over budget with not a single compulsory land purchase even in the courts. A monster project being driven right through the one part of the country where planning permission is most difficult: west of the A1/M1 and south of Corby. The South Province of England where everyone is BANANAs, as David Cameron once said: “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.” 

Which brings us to houses. Everyone agrees that building more houses is the solution to rising house prices, which are pricing a whole generation out of home ownership. But no one wants the new houses anywhere near them. It’s enough to make you feel a twinge of sympathy for Nick Boles, the bright, modernising Tory Planning Minister.

And I haven’t mentioned shale gas and nuclear power stations. For every job-creating, growth-friendly “infrastructure project” there are a thousand caveats in the specifics.

So, when George Osborne announced some big numbers for infrastructure spending this week, it sounded good. But now that Danny Alexander has announced the list of projects, we should think again.

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page


Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam