Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Infrastructure Bill: "Infrastructure isn’t just about pouring concrete... It’s essential that we see infrastructure as a means to an end, not as an end in itself."

The Infrastructure Bill has been looked at on this blog - in the context of how changes in property rights will make fracking a little easier:
Futures Forum: The Infrastructure Bill, trespass law and fracking

However, the context of this Bill is clearly the notion of 'infrastructure' per se - which is something this blog has also looked at:
Futures Forum: Sustainable urbanisation: another oxymoron?
Futures Forum: Subsidies and social engineering: or why we build roads.
Futures Forum: Climate change: asphalt and urban heat islands
Futures Forum: The great S106 cash give-away
Futures Forum: 106 payments and the NPPF... the repercussions for East Devon
Futures Forum: How sustainable is the construction industry? ... 'Concrete is responsible for 7-10% of CO2 emissions' ... 'The industry must shift its emphasis beyond recycling and towards reuse'
Futures Forum: For community and against sprawl ... 'Strong Towns' and 'the end of the suburbs'
Futures Forum: Crony capitalism and lemon socialism in East Devon........ The costs of "substantial growth and expanding business"
Futures Forum: HS2 and the South-West: post-Dawlish ..... "Building a few kilometres of new track to secure access to the South West has a far better case than building hundreds of kilometres of vanity trackage to serve places which are already linked by multiple rail and motorway systems."
Futures Forum: What transport infrastructure do we want for East Devon?
Futures Forum: Payments and patronage in East Devon
Futures Forum: 'Planning gain' - the replacement for S106 cash from developers - the Community Infrastructure Levy - but is it still 'bribery' by a different name?

As has been noted (see below), the concreting over of much of Spain and Ireland before the great property crash of 2008/9 was trumpeted by politicians as a means to an end ...
... that infrastructure is all about 'creating jobs and growth':
Spain’s voters are furious but refuse to punish corrupt leaders - FT.com
Spain's Empty Housing Project Valdeluz Marks the End of the Boom
Spain ghost airports: symbols of boom turned bust - BusinessWeek
Column: Why are we still in denial about Ireland’s housing crisis?
Irish politicians ultimately to blame for Irish property crash and burn - IrishCentral.com
How the Celtic Tiger Ate Ireland | Peace Child International

The Czech artist David Černý interpreted Spain's good old days as a giant building site:

ian alden russell » Europe’s greatest test: David Cerny’s sense of humour

And during the boom, Spanish property developers took Greenpeace to court over suggestions that their investments might be under threat from climate change:


In other words, 'infrastructure' is a highly political issue.

Moreover, we need to know what we're talking about when we talk about 'infrastructure' - as this piece from the Green Alliance from last year pointed out:

Don’t take politics out of infrastructure planning

Posted on 3 July, 2014 by Julian Morgan

If you start talking about infrastructure, few will accuse you of playing to the gallery. The term conjures up images of civil engineers, hard hats and a lot of concrete. Yet the choices we make about infrastructure in the coming years will have profound consequences for the UK’s future, influencing our ability to grow the economy, improve quality of life, protect against flooding and reduce CO2 emissions.

Voices across the political spectrum have highlighted our failure to deliver on infrastructure. Whoever wins the next election, it is likely there will be steps to enhance our ability to deliver major projects.

Sir John Armitt’s review of infrastructure planning for the Labour Party is a good example of how debate is shifting towards more strategic thinking. Published today as a draft National Infrastructure Bill, it will see a future Labour government create a National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). This will identify the UK’s infrastructure needs over a 25-30 year time horizon and across a range of sectors if we are to maintain international economic competitiveness. Parliament will have approval over the resulting plan and task government departments with developing more detailed sector infrastructure plans to support it. Naturally, parliament could reject the NIC’s proposals. But the hope is that a commission-led strategic plan will help infrastructure to rise above the politics that so often bedevils it and gain cross party support.

Adding strategy to infrastructure planning

This approach will be valuable in tackling one of one of the key problems with the UK’s current approach to infrastructure planning: it lacks strategy. Looking at infrastructure needs in the round is not only common sense, it is vital to decarbonising the economy. Political cycles work against long term decision making, and policy uncertainty has slowed the delivery of low carbon infrastructure and increased its cost. Yet it represents about two thirds of the current infrastructure pipeline up to 2020. Apart from being a vital economic stimulus, this investment will be central to ensuring the UK is on the right path to meet its climate change targets. Strengthening evidence based assessment and providing more certainty for investors about project timescales and expected funding would be significant steps forward.

Yet streamlining decision making also carries risks. To maintain legitimacy, it will be important that the NIC does not aim to remove the politics from the infrastructure debate, but instead embraces it. Public support for infrastructure needs to be built at different levels.

To achieve broad acceptance of any national plan, there needs to be a role for localism, and routes for communities and individuals to become engaged. Plans for delivering on the draft bill specify that the sector infrastructure plans (SIPs) will involve public consultation. This could be a powerful means of securing public acceptance of infrastructure. As currently envisaged, SIPs will be the point at which, for example, an identified need for greater connectivity between two cities will develop into specific road and rail project proposals. Consultation at this stage will be an opportunity to identify what options the public most value and support, rather than merely consulting them on the specifics of an individual transport project. However, the details of what this consultation will look like are not yet clear and it will have to go beyond statutory consultees if it is to be meaningful.

Infrastructure isn’t just about pouring concrete

It’s also essential that we see infrastructure as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. The NIC should be open to the full variety of ways to achieve any given objective. If a more ambitious electricity saving programme can avoid the need for new power station, the NIC should have the remit to include this in their plan. If developing a floodplain upstream provides more cost effective protection than strengthening river banks downstream, then this option should be available.

But the biggest risk comes from commitment being a double-edged sword. The enhanced ability of our political system to commit to infrastructure projects may also make it possible to proceed more decisively with the ‘wrong’ types of infrastructure. There is currently mounting pressure to support projects, such as road building and airport expansion, from those who see no other routes to economic growth. This risks long term lock-in to highly polluting infrastructure, making it harder, and much more costly, to subsequently decarbonise the economy, reverse poor air quality trends and reduce noise pollution.

Some business commentators think the route to sustainable infrastructure is less politics. The reverse is true, with more discussion about choices and trade-offs better decisions are made and more will get built. The Armitt bill offers better planning, but it will only accelerate the UK’s economic modernisation if it encourages more people to engage in the debate about our infrastructure choices.

When the first 'Growth and Infrastructure Bill' first saw the light of day back in October 2012, Geoffrey Lean of the Telegraph was very critical:

Last summer, George Monbiot drew attention to the potential for serious 'overdevelopment' contained within the Infrastructure Bill, now making its way through Parliament:

Beware the small print that threatens all public land

As the infrastructure bill in the Lords shows, we seem to measure progress only by how much of the UK we can concrete over

George Monbiot The Guardian, Monday 23 June 2014 18.45 BST

Jump to comments (246)

The government did a U-turn over the sale of the public forest estate, but schedule 3 of the new infrastructure bill may create the power to extinguish public rights of way. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty

Planning laws inhibit prosperity. That's what we're told by almost everyone. Those long and tortuous negotiations over what should be built where are a brake on progress. All the major parties and most of the media believe that we would be better off with less regulation, less discussion and more speed. Try telling that to the people of Spain and Ireland.

Town planning in those countries amounts to shaking a giant dustbin over the land. Houses are littered randomly across landscapes of tremendous beauty, and are so disaggregated that they're almost impossible to provide with public services. The result, of course, is a great advance in human welfare. Oh, wait a moment. No, it's economic collapse followed by mass unemployment. Spain and Ireland removed the brakes on progress and the car rolled over a precipice. Their barely regulated planning systems permitted the creation of property bubbles that trashed the economy along with the land.

Needless to say, we have learned nothing from this. Our lords and masters still whip the buttocks of the Gaderene swine. When the infrastructure bill was discussed in the House of Lords last week, our unelected legislators rained curses upon peace and quiet, beauty and stillness.

Lord Adonis, a Labour peer, complained that "for the first time in 350 years, Britain will no longer have the world's largest port or airport. That accolade will pass, symbolically, to Dubai". The shame of it – to have some upstart petro-city making more noise and pollution than we do. For the government, Baroness Kramer boasted that "we are making the biggest investment in roads since the 1970s". The Conservative peer Lord Jenkin, in discussing the new freedoms for frackers the government proposes, celebrated what he called a "drill, baby, drill bill". All this, we are assured, will enhance the life of the nation.

Since the 1980s, the Department for Transport has consistently forecast traffic growth along a steep trajectory. But the distance covered by car drivers in England is now 7% lower than it was in 1997. The total volume of traffic has flatlined since 2002, nixing every prediction the department has made. Last year, 32 transport professors wrote to the secretary of state pointing out that, in the absence of traffic growth, "the basis for major infrastructure spending decisions appears to be changing".

The only thing likely to induce more traffic growth, they argued, is building more trunk roads, and that would put intolerable pressure on the city streets into which they feed. The facts might have changed, but the policy remains the same. The department continues to make the same failed forecasts, using the same failed model. The desire to build – and to appease the construction industry and motoring lobby – comes first, and the forecasts are made to fit.

So is the planning system. The government's draft national policy statement for major roads weakens the protection of wildlife, ancient woodlands and treasured landscapes. It forbids any consideration of climate change during planning inquiries: motorways will officially produce no more carbon dioxide than cycle paths.

Not a word of this was heard in the chamber last Wednesday. No one questioned the need for the road-building programme of which the government boasted. The peers, an unlikely club of boy racers, stood only to demand that we should go further and faster, on a journey without purpose or destination.

If they have their way, we will become the proud recipients of a new network of roads to nowhere. Like Benidorm's In Tempo towers, the tallest residential buildings in Europe, they will be commissioned in a convulsion of optimism and greed, before becoming monuments to bad debt and human folly. "Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare…".

Campaigners and opposition peers fear that the bill could also licence the government to sell off any public land it chooses, while cancelling, without process or debate, public access and use. Clauses 21 and 22 allow it to transfer property from other public bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency and permanently to extinguish easements (rights of use), public rights of way, and the protections afforded to consecrated ground. The HCA can then sell this land to developers, free from public rights.The news site

Schnews reveals that during the great battle over the coalition's attempt to sell off the public forest estate, which resulted in the government's first major U-turn, one of the campaigners received an anonymous call from a civil servant. "The forests are just the start," he warned. "They are absolutely determined to sell every scrap of public land – beaches, parks, the lot."

Is that what this is? I don't know. During the Lords debate, Baroness Kramer insisted that this measure applies only to "surplus land" and "applies only to private rights and not to those that are public". Just one problem: there are no such safeguards in the bill. The word "surplus" does not occur anywhere, and the bill creates specific powers "to extinguish public rights of way". Yes, public – not private. Had Kramer read the bill she moved? Or was she making it up as she went along? In either case, until this is either clarified or struck out, the forests for which we fought so hard and, perhaps, all other state-owned land could be at risk.

But who needs all that, when you have the world's biggest airport to boast of, and the biggest investment in pointless roads since the 1970s and a "drill, baby, drill bill"? What else would anyone who loved this country wish for?

Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com

Beware the small print that threatens all public land | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

Whilst there is panic that Heathrow has been 'overtaken' as the 'busiest airport in the world' by Dubai, and that others are not far behind...
Dubai replaces Heathrow as busiest airport - FT.com
Europe's Busiest Airport Is Still Heathrow, But Istanbul Is Gaining Ground

... there is more concern that 'China is overtaking everything':

China Ascends, America Declines

Infrastructure Trumps Militarized Capitalism


Ever since childhood, I have tended to judge a society, in part, by its creative demiurge, architecture (not Speer’s Nazi monumentality designed to cow the people into submission) and the projects articulated as an indicator of Community, an endeavor to achieve the societal well-being. (Painting and music would also count, of course, but my interest in aesthetic and cultural liberation—admittedly limited—took this form.) With the Sino-American comparison in mind, particularly the latter’s crumbling infrastructure, on which we can all agree, I will note current developments in China as a sign of confidence in the future. By architecture, we must include engineering as perhaps its inner voice—and by infrastructure, I must admit my admiration for what the New Deal was able to achieve, infrastructure the inner voice of the nation’s collective property and well-being. That private contractors rule the roost in the little done in America today, i.e., the privatization of the national estate, only confirms the decline in spirit and will to think of a separable PUBLIC realm dedicated to the people as by right theirs.

We turn, then, to China, and the excellent article by New York Times reporter David Barboza, “Projects to Make Great Wall Feel Small,” (Jan. 13), which details the wave of infrastructure-concentration today in modern China. This speaks not only to planning but also national priorities, and above all to looking forward to a world freed from single-power unilateral supervision of the global system. Every mile of track laid for high-speed trains is a nail in the coffin of US categorical domination of that system. The US knows it, China knows it, the exciting race is on: can development best militarism? Let’s look closer at what is happening.

Yes, there is the Shanghai Tower, now the world’s second highest building, but that’s not what I have in mind. China has identified key structural-economic needs, not infrastructure for its own sake. (I, like many, have consistently opposed development locally, as merely a boon to business interests, not to say contributing to environmental damage, increased traffic, overcrowding; but that is very different from infrastructure, public in character, dealing with water treatment, sewage, etc.–a useful distinction to keep in mind.) It is wrong to see China’s projects as all of one cloth, pure as new-driven snow. But the good outweigh the bad, those extraneous to meeting societal needs. A foundation is being laid for national greatness in the service of the people, as for example, “divert[ing] water from the south of the country, where it is abundant, to a parched section of the north, along a route that covers more than 1,500 miles.” The cost, $80B. We see public investment of near astronomical sums on such projects.

Barboza, writing from Dalian, begins: “The plan here seems far-fetched—a $36 billion tunnel that would run twice the length of the one under the English Channel….[as] the world’s longest underwater tunnel, creating a rail link between two northern port cities.” Infrastructure is designed to service production, in addition to servicing health, water, and other specifically communal needs. He writes further about how in Keynesian fashion (mine), as in New Deal spending to avert economic depression, China’s leaders “are moving even more aggressively [following three decades of boom conditions], doubling down on mega-infrastructure.” So we find the National Development and Reform Commission “approv[ing] plans to spend nearly $115 billion on 21 supersize infrastructure projects, including new airports and high-speed rail lines.” Heavy debt, particularly local government debt, is being incurred, but unlike Europe and IMF-World Bank austerity measures, China appears relatively unconcerned and confident its growth would offset this indebtedness. It is not running scared, even querulous. In response to a UC, San Diego China specialist, who contended, “People should be concerned [about the indebtedness] because very few of these big projects generate cash,” the usual critique of public ownership, Barboza observes: “And yet China’s leaders are so confident of the value and necessity of building on an epic scale that engineers are mapping out plans for decades to come.” ...

With China, hope, with America, anger, suspiciousness, despair. The un- and sub-conscious foundation for the Pacific-first strategy lies in humbling China, dismembering it, cutting it down to size (similar to US thinking and planning with respect to Russia, only now China taking precedence over Russia as America’s #1 adversary). Adversaries are supposed to quail, not confidently affirm the future. In both Putin and Li, Obama and the US have met their match. There may be oligarchs aplenty on the other side, but it is the fact of and underlying rationale for INFRASTRUCTURE that drives America and Obama up the wall; for it is the public factor that sticks in the capitalist craw, even when devoted to long-range private service, in that it represents a collective people providing for society’s needs. Some of what China is doing in this regard is downright stupid and short-sighted, as in Lanzhou, where local government “has backed plans to flatten the tops of 700 low-level mountains to make way for a new business district [something the US would applaud, even boast of], despite concerns about the damage to the local ecosystem.”

Infrastructure Trumps Militarized Capitalism » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

SHANGHAI | Shanghai Tower | 632m | 2073ft | 128 fl | T/O - Page 1050 - SkyscraperCity
Shanghai Tower (650 meters) - YouTube

China is the biggest investor in 'infrastructure':
Chinese infrastructure: The big picture | McKinsey & Company
China Fast-Tracks $1 Trillion in Projects to Spur Growth - Bloomberg

And the British -amongst others - are interested:
China set to invest £105bn in UK infrastructure by 2025 - FT.com
China to Invest Big-Time in UK’s Energy Sector | Offshore Wind
UK-China pact ‘paves way’ for Chinese Hinkley Point C investment - Nuclear Engineering International
Britain’s double Chinese betrayal? | | Independent Eagle Eye Blogs

Recently, the East Devon District Council, in its 'employment space strategy', included forecasts for the Chinese economy:

The changing nature of employment makes it difficult to model out beyond 2016. Even in that timescale, economic shocks such as the recent credit crunch and fuel price increases could influence future patterns. These may also be affected by major changes in global economics arising from, for example, as the Chinese economy rapidly moves from a cheap labour supply driving manufacturing to a more developed economy; food production; ever-rising energy costs; and any impacts from climate change.

Devon Employment Space Strategy September 2008

And earlier last year, Chinese investors were made welcome in Devon:
Futures Forum: Foreign Direct Investment ... vs ... supporting locally-owned small businesses

However, ultimately, if infrastructure is a 'means to an end', we must ask who it serves:
 Futures Forum: "Statistics show us that small and medium-size businesses (including those in tourism) are our life blood."

And if it is an 'end in itself', then we must ask what kind of infrastructure we are happy to see in our lives and in our landscapes:
Futures Forum: The aesthetics of development: power plants and windfarms

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