Infrastructure - Connecting for Growth
By Chris Fletcher, Marketing & Policy Director
Say the word infrastructure to a group of business owners and it is highly likely that the vast majority of immediate thoughts would focus on either road or rail structures and systems, maybe for those who export, air travel too.
Mention broadband and you get a look of “of course” across many people’s faces – almost a guilty admission that they had forgotten about this fundamental part of the infrastructure spectrum.
Talk about canals and again you can see the dawning realisation from many that yes these too, the very transport system that built the original northern powerhouse, are also important and should form part of the infrastructure network. It also involves stuff you can’t see such as energy , but without which things pretty much would grind to a halt quickly.
Indeed this article is a result of infrastructure – access to Office on the cloud to write it and then the means to publish this onto whatever device you’re reading it on.
And this is the big problem with a subject as broad as this. It’s all critical at one level or another - you can’t run a modern economy without it but what should you focus on?
Over the last few years rail investment has captured the headlines and most of the funding. It will probably continue to do so as the HS2 build work starts and we continue to push for Crossrail North. Roads, so often at the back of the queue, must start to receive similar levels of investment both at a strategic and local level.
Genuine high speed broadband should be treated in the same way as other utilities and we should not be afraid to explore other modes of connectivity too – so lets have a serious look again at the canal system. It doesn’t need building it’s already there so how can we modernise it?
But why do this? Simply it’s about connectivity – the core aim of the Northern Powerhouse put forward by the then Chancellor George Osborne. If you connect the major economic areas – not just cities – you open up all sorts of possibilities. But you have to be serious about this and you have to recognise that you can’t deliver things overnight without disrupting existing networks.
Work is taking place – think of the Ordsall Chord, the M60 works. But we are in a bit of a trap at present just making the current networks adequate following years of inadequate funding from several governments. But what of future growth?
The investment is there – all parties have recognised this and have committed to major infrastructure investment but money on its own isn’t enough it has to pay for schemes that are truly transformational and have the shelf life to make a difference. How for example can you make sure that journey times from across a huge catchment area are reduced sufficiently to allow easier access to the regions airports? How can you make sure that city centre roads stop resembling car parks? How do you start to integrate the inevitable onset of driverless vehicles?
Tough questions. But throwing money at things doesn’t work without a longer term vision. That vision has to be about connectivity digitally and in the everyday world too. It is an issue that needs looking at completely in the round if we as a country really do wish to move forward.
We're collecting a range of viewpoints and opinion pieces as we lead up to the general election.