In support of infrastructure

Why can’t we celebrate our national infrastructure – roads, railways, airports etc?

I wonder if there has ever been a proposal to build some a piece of national infrastructure which has not been attacked vociferously by those who felt they would be disadvantaged by the development. It is certainly an instinctive reaction which goes right back to the nineteenth century. Writing about the initial expansion of the railways, railway historian Frederick S. Williams says: “A rumor that it was proposed to bring such a thing as a railroad within a dozen miles of a particular neighborhood was enough to elicit adverse petitions to Parliament, and public subscriptions were opened to give effect to the opposition.” (p. 23, Williams). And yet there are a few pieces of infrastructure in place to day that anyone could really imagine we could do without. Certainly not our motorways, airports or railway system. Indeed the only way of eliciting a reaction as strong as that caused by a proposal to build infrastructure is a make a proposal to take it away. We may not think that the M6 or the other parts of our motorway system are things of great beauty – though they are all in their way engineering marvels – but we certainly do not want to do without them.

Given which, I am delighted that the government has decided to press ahead with the high sped train. I know people who live along the route, and I know they are going to hate it. But it is ridiculous to think that we can stop investing in the national communications network. So let’s stop trying to oppose it and focus instead on ensuring that the environmental effects are mitigated and that the result engineering product is a thing of genuine elegance and quality. I’d like to think that future generations might be as awed by HS2 as we are by the great symbols of the Victorian railway age. That’s surely not an unreasonable aspiration.