Last year marked an important milestone for Crossrail: its 40th birthday. London’s new east-west link was first proposed in the 1974 London Rail Study, even if it only broke ground 35 years later, after decades of reports, failed legislation and repeated balking at the high costs of the scheme. This is a tediously familiar tale in the recent history of the UK’s transport infrastructure. There has been a consistent lack of political will to push through major projects, leaving strategically important schemes mired in the planning system or dropped abruptly with a change of government. As a result, the UK lags behind other developed nations – ranked ninth overall in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, but only 27th for the quality of its transport network.
Transport is essential to the UK economy, and there is an urgent need for investment in roads, rail and airport capacity to ease congestion, support growth and accommodate 10m additional citizens by 2035. It is a critical juncture for key projects including HS2, Crossrail 2, much-needed rail improvements in the North and airport expansion in the South-East, and if the UK is not to grind to a halt in 20 years’ time, we have to start now. Political consensus and stability will be essential to delivering these aims – but unfortunately, we are a month away from the least predictable general election in decades. In this article on the next government’s transport policy for Estates Gazette, I assessed the prospects for a very uncertain future.
Infrastructure is the world’s biggest growth market, with vast investment taking place in the transport, energy, water and communications networks that underpin every aspect of modern life. In developed countries, the emphasis is on upgrading crumbling facilities after decades of underinvestment. In the rapidly growing economies of the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, it’s about building new networks from scratch, even entire new cities, as the global population grows to a predicted 9.5bn by 2050 and mass urbanisation continues. A 2013 report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that it would take US$57trn worth of investment by 2030 just to provide the infrastructure to meet projected GDP growth – 60% more than had been spent in the previous 18 years. In this ten-page cover feature for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, I led a whistle-stop tour of the opportunities for its members: with so many sub-sectors in so many countries, the biggest challenge is working out where to start.
During 2012, the UK consumed 1,468,000 barrels of oil every single day, according to BP. So what would happen if the price of those barrels, currently just above the US$100 mark, were to suddenly double, or even triple? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility – oil prices peaked at US$145 in July 2008, and though fracking may appear to have averted an imminent peak in the oil supply, the majority of proven reserves and many supply lines remain located in some of the world’s most volatile regions. Oil plays a role in practically every aspect of modern life, which means that a major price rise would surely have profound consequences. Exactly what those consequences might be is the subject of this October cover feature for Modus, the magazine of the RICS.
If you’re in any doubt that insurers secretly rule the world, take a look at the latest edition of Lloyd’s Market magazine. For this issue’s Foresight section, I interviewed insurance experts on Mexico’s controversial new government and its likely impact on infrastructure, organised crime and the oil and gas sector; the latest EU sanctions that prohibit insurers and reinsurers covering the transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products; how a Greek exit from the euro could throw contract law across the EU into chaos; the construction of the Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope with 3000 antennas spanning Australia and South Africa; and gadgets in your car that log not only your driving behaviour but reveal your whole personality…
I spent January researching and writing a 12,000-word report on India for Building magazine’s White Paper series. One of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India appears unstoppable. While foreign investors continue to flock to its Special Economic Zones, domestic demand from its 1.2 billion citizens is more than sufficient to maintain GDP growth well above the global average. But to live up to its potential, the Indian government knows it must invest billions of dollars on every aspect of its infrastructure – under the Five Year Plan just finishing, it spent $500bn, and it has set out a further $1trn of projects in the next. This feature, published in Building the same week, offers a snapshot of what’s going on.
There are many questions hanging over the future of nuclear power in the UK, and in particular over energy company EDF’s plans to start building four new power stations in 2012. But Alan Cumming can’t really answer any of them. As deputy director of procurement, construction and project controls, rather than planning, public policy, great unknowns or hopeless causes, Cumming isn’t best placed to talk about the implications of the new coalition government, the odds of securing planning permission after the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission or when EDF really needs a decision on a floorprice for carbon credits to determine whether the plants are financially viable. Fortunately, he could talk to me in quite some detail about a question that is of great importance to Building’s readers: how can they get involved in building them?
If ranting about public transport were a sport, I would be at least semi-professional. So I was overjoyed when Building asked me to contribute to its public spending campaign with a rather polemical article on how rubbish Britain’s railways are and why we can’t afford to let them get any worse. Did you know Wales is the only country in the EU to have no electrified track apart from Albania?