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Enough rhetoric – let's see some bold action on infrastructure

Istanbul Airport
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While the world is embarking on visionary infrastructure projects, the UK is hampered by too much red tape, writes Michael Olliff

The UK has the world’s best architects and engineers, but is at risk of losing its pre-eminent global position due to excessive red tape, which is consigning major projects to decades of delay in the planning system. The consequence is that the risk of delay becomes a major factor in the decision-making process, with vision and innovation taking a back seat.

The irony is that while the UK boasts many of the world’s finest and most talented architects and engineers, many of them are spending much of their time working abroad. The rest of the world is embarking on visionary infrastructure projects and UK designers are in great demand. Scott Brownrigg is currently working on the Istanbul New Airport which aims to be the world’s largest, serving up to 180 million passengers a year from six runways. This project will have been conceived, designed, procured and the first phase completed before a spade is put in the ground at Heathrow for the third runway.

By the time Heathrow is complete it is possible that the demand for it will not exist, as Istanbul becomes the new hub for Europe, taking business from both Heathrow and Schiphol. It is not just airports that are being delivered in Turkey. Plans are also afoot to build a canal connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, which opens to the Aegean Sea via the Dardanelles. Canal Istanbul promises to be one of the greatest projects of the century and would have a depth of about 25m, affording the daily passage of up to 160 vessels.

It is not just Turkey that has ambitious plans for infrastructure. Canada has plans for $60 billion of investment into social and transport infrastructure projects, all funded through Public Private Partnerships. UK companies are being invited to team up with local firms to provide valuable skills and expertise. South East Asia is also gearing up with visionary infrastructure projects. Singapore, where we also have an office, is handling its shortage of space through land reclamation and is looking to move its Central Business District to the new Marina Bay Financial Centre. Airports are also planned across the region, with major investment following in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The UK National Infrastructure Plan is a very welcome step and Sadie Morgan’s appointment to its Commission sends a clear message that design has a place in the delivery of major public sector infrastructure spending. David Cameron spoke in his speech to the Institute of Civil Engineering back in 2012 about ‘men of iron and steam like Brunel, Stephenson and Telford’ and talked about ‘our national legacy to the world being seen through the steam engine, the jet engine, the railway and civil nuclear power’. The key issue now is for politicians to convert the rhetoric into action and to work closely with UK architects and engineers to create bold visions that consolidate our global position and take the lead on environmental and social sustainability.

Michael Olliff is a managing director at Scott Brownrigg 

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