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“The colossal cost of infrastructure”

  • by J.W.

“While governments and construction companies are happy to give us more of everything, the one thing we cannot have is less.”


Everyone’s going for infrastructure:

What’s in the $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill – The New York Times

Former HSBC boss John Flint to run new UK infrastructure bank | Financial Times

Construction ‘supercycle’ predicted on wave of government spending | Financial Times


But even ‘green infrastructure’ has its costs:

However, a worldwide focus on energy and transport transition without calculating the additional greenhouse gas emissions and environmental cost of producing green infrastructure could lead to rising greenhouse gas concentration and ecological hazards.

For instance, the growing instalment of floating photovoltaic power farms will increase greenhouse gas emissions from the petrochemical industry due to rising demand for the plastic floating platforms, and lead to microplastic pollution from the degradation of floating platforms. The rapid unbalanced transition towards green growth and huge demand for new infrastructure could generate additional greenhouse gas emissions from the current fossil fuel production lines and lead to a rebound in greenhouse gas concentration.

The true costs of infrastructure – Vision Group for Sidmouth


And recent examinations of the impact of ‘new technologies’ have been pointed to with glee by its detractors:

‘Planet of the Humans’: a new documentary – Vision Group for Sidmouth


The fundamental problem of any infrastructure is its impact on the environment:

How sustainable is the construction industry? How resilient is our infrastructure? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

More housing estates = more roads = more traffic – Vision Group for Sidmouth


But perhaps more insidious is the impact of infrastructure on the system of political patronage.

As Noam Chomsky pointed out:

One well-known fact about trade is that it’s highly subsidized with huge market-distorting factors…. The most obvious is that every form of transport is highly subsidized…. Since trade naturally requires transport, the costs of transport enter into the calculation of the efficiency of trade. But there are huge subsidies to reduce the costs of transport, through manipulation of energy costs and all sorts of market- distorting functions.

The true costs of subsidised infrastructure – Vision Group for Sidmouth

And as George Monbiot points out in this week’s Guardian:

But while governments and construction companies are happy to give us more of everything, the one thing we cannot have is less. The overarching rule is this: if you want a greener world, resist the rising tide of concrete.

We can’t build our way out of the environmental crisis | George Monbiot | The Guardian


Finally, as Philip Johnson writing in the Telegraph last November pointed out, so much infrastructure is just not worth it:

We know much of what is in the pipeline, including long-term investments in green technology and transport. There will be promises of money for flood defences and to repair pot-holes. The biggest investment of all is needed in full fibre broadband. We are still basing connectivity decisions on the notion that rail and road traffic will increase when the pandemic suggests otherwise.

As more people continue to work from home and businesses leave their expensively rented city centre premises, there will be less commuting. When HS2 was finally given the go-ahead in February, the coronavirus was something we thought would stop in China. The fact that it didn’t has changed all calculations about the type of infrastructure that will be needed…

But the biggest problem with infrastructure in this country is the eye-watering expense of doing anything. How can it possibly cost more than £100 billion, the latest estimate for HS2, to build a relatively short railway? Or £1.6 billion for a two-mile road tunnel under Stonehenge, a project originally budgeted at £50 million when it was first proposed around the time the ancient Britons were dragging the Sarsen stones into place. Both of these projects should be scrapped on the grounds of cost alone, leave aside whether they are needed, as in the case of HS2, or represent an act of wanton vandalism, as with Stonehenge.

I would suggest two alternative uses for this colossal waste of money: a tidal barrage either on the Severn or Swansea Bay; and a grid using the canals and river systems to transport water around the country in anticipation of the droughts expected to affect London and the South in 25 years’ time. These would be far more likely to give the country long-term benefits than a faster train to Birmingham or a quicker drive along part of the A303.

The colossal cost of infrastructure is a British disease nobody can cure

The colossal cost of infrastructure is a British disease nobody can cure : ukpolitics