NECC Column: It’s back to the grindstone

First published in Business News

CHRISTMAS has passed and it’s back to the grindstone, but thankfully we don’t find ourselves literally ploughing through winter – yet, writes Mark Stephenson, NECC policy manager. 

In the past few years, the season of goodwill to all men has been followed by snow…and the usual panic about our transport network, depicted as clinging on by a thread as people try, often in vain to get from one place to another by plane, train or automobile.

And there’s the problem – the images of our hub airport in chaos, our railways stationary and our key roads in gridlock as rain, wind or snow cause widespread disruption – have become the norm.

The key to this is congestion. Every facet of our transport infrastructure is full to capacity and in some instances beyond capacity.

Whether it’s the UK’s hub airport, our main rail links, or road arteries the UK endures congestion and overcrowding on its transport infrastructure that only a few unfortunate places in the world compare – yet we are the sixth biggest economy in the world.

The World Economic Forum has ranked the UK 33rd for investment in infrastructure and what we all know from experience is that our transport links are not fit for purpose if even the smallest unforeseen pressures are placed upon it at peak times.

Yet here we are looking to the world to invest in our country, in our infrastructure.  We are asking fund managers, Governments and businesses to risk capital on our transport network – something that is now so politicised that we can’t build a runway, rail link or power station without years of political posturing. Nobody expects these things to happen overnight, and we must carry out full and proper consultation, but our infrastructure should not be a political play-thing anymore.

This is why during 2014, ahead of an election year, NECC will be yelling from the rooftops to get projects off the sidings and into construction. Our hub airport, our rail links and some of our roads have been placed in the ‘too difficult’ pile for too long.

If politicians can summon the courage to lead and develop infrastructure that provides construction jobs for UK firms, links our businesses to key markets and actually works in all but the most of extreme eventualities then they – along with our economy – will reap the dividends.  If they don’t then rather than participating in the global race, we’ll find ourselves on the road to nowhere.

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