David Cameron’s plan to privatise parts of the road system makes a refreshingly aspirational change from the doom and gloom of these tough economic times. Sadly, the timidity of the measures being proposed cannot match the Victorian grandeur of its aims. Leasing sections of road to the private sector and possibly allowing tolls on new roads will not bring anywhere near the level of investment Britain needs into its chronically underfunded infrastructure.
The irony of course is that this Government has steamrollered through HS2 in the face of massive public opposition, and despite economic evaluations showing it to be commercially unworkable. Not only that, it intends to subsidise HS2 while, at the same time, preventing a third runway at Heathrow being built with private money. Heathrow expansion would be the genuine 21st-century analogy to the Victorian engineers.
The key to Victorian inventiveness was private investment rewarded by profit. For a long time Britain was a world leader in infrastructur. We now lag behind in almost every regard – on price, efficiency, design.
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