I am sitting on a train just north of Doncaster going nowhere. The new power unit has managed to collect debris from an overhead gantry as well as some overhead power cables. No one knows how long we will be sitting here. All this as the Strategic Rail Authority is saying that there will be less money available to repair our train network and that operating companies will receive less subsidy, which will result in reduced services and increased cost to the passengers.
We already pay more than any other country for our ailing system.
This whole problem comes from years of neglect, complicated privatisation and no investment. As a nation we complain, but we elected a government that is not prepared to raise taxes to pay for a good rail system in the belief that the private sector can. The problem is that it cannot.
Meanwhile, a vast expenditure is being put into widening roads in an attempt to appease the voter. All the talk of an integrated road and rail system seems to be of no consequence as far as the network is concerned. There is still no announcement on Crossrail for London; the West Coast line is not to be as upgraded as it might have been; and London Underground seems set on the same course of confusion and destruction as British Rail was in the 1990s.
People are dying of hospital-related illnesses and our PFI system has ensured that the delivery of new facilities is well behind schedule. So much so, in fact, that ministers are throwing design and quality standards to the wind in order to accelerate delivery to allow ribbons to be cut in time for the next election. Of course, none of the new hospitals have managed to show any imagination or innovation whatsoever, which means that we are simply replacing like with newer like.
Teachers are revolting under the weight of reports, too many exams and inadequate facilities. To help out the latter, the PFI system again produces ghastly buildings that do not even match up to the Victorian edifices that many of us were educated in. How did we dream up a system where a single PFI provider can use a single, undistinguished architect to design 35 schools in one area?
I thought this government was committed to culture in general, but today, the Lottery cash has been raided and there is less money in the arts than there was before. No one in government has made any link between good design and prosperity, health and a sense of well being, all of which might save on health budgets. Unfortunately, what we do as architects tends to be seen as long term and of little consequence to re-election in terms of our four- to five-year cycle. We do not manufacture anything we design, our inventors and designers work for the benefit of other countries, who sell their goods to us via a rail system at their end which works and is affordable.
The running of the country is a design problem which would appear to be beyond the capability of politicians. Behind all this is a rampant faith in capitalism that continues to create an unequal society. We will soon find that the poor will pay to attend fashionable bars to observe the rich and famous. This kind of perverse isolation is directly related to a continuing search for growth which is not sustainable, which in turn creates enormous pressure on the individual and the environment.
While we appear willing to pay to go to war in Iraq for somewhat spurious reasons, I wish you a Happy New Year!
WA, from a train in the middle of nowhere