Britain needs rebuilding

An energy shortfall is the UK’s biggest future headache, but it’s not the only one. Spending on other parts of our key national infrastructure has also been grossly inadequate.

Last week I wrote about our country’s potential power problems. Ben gave you more on the same vein on Monday.

But as I also said last time, though an impending energy shortfall is the UK’s biggest future headache, it’s by no means the only one.

Spending on other parts of our key national infrastructure has also been grossly inadequate. Britain needs rebuilding.

Today I explain more about what needs to be done.

Water, water, everywhere…and not a drop to drink

Since 1990, UK daily household water use has grown to 8.5bn litres and is still rising. The government’s Natural Capital Committee estimates that demand will soon rise by almost another one billion litres a day.

In fact, a government white paper predicts a future scenario where there’ll be “less water available for people, businesses and the environment” leading to “significant unmet demand” in the future.

As and when that happens, either the price will rise or curbs must be introduced.

Here’s the conundrum: one minute you could be facing a water shortage, the next you could be bombarded with flood warnings.

We’ve all seen the headlines about inadequate flood defences. In fact, structural damage done during a flood is likely to disrupt supply of clean water even more.

Flooding and scarcity of water are really the same infrastructure problem. They’re just being fought on two different fronts.

The roads can’t cope

Further, if you’re a regular UK driver, you’ll know that our road system can’t cope.

The UK is only sixth in the list of Europe’s most congested countries, says traffic-watcher Inrix.

But for traffic congestion across more than 100 cities worldwide, in 2015 London came top with drivers wasting an average of 101 hours, or more than four days, in gridlock.

The average British driver spends 30 hours a year stuck in traffic jams. There are simply too many cars for the existing highway network.

Even worse, many of our roads are in dire need of repair. They’re directly costing you about £684 a year in car repairs according to a report that suggests over 6m British drivers have been affected by potholes in the last 12 months.

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The government has pledged to set some money aside to help local councils sort the problem. But it’s not nearly enough.

Estimates from the Local Government Association suggest that the government’s fund to fix potholes is some “230 times smaller than the amount needed”.

A survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance argues that truly fixing Britain’s road network would cost £11.8bn and take around 14 years.

And it’s not like you can escape the jams by taking the train.

Office of Rail and Road data show that the number of passenger journeys on franchised rail services in Britain in 2014-15 increased by 4.2% to 1.65bn.

That’s the highest-recorded figure since the series began in 2002-3 and 70% up on 2002-3. But rail capacity hasn’t grown by anything like as much – hence so much overcrowding.

And the numbers keep rising. UK rail passengers made about 1.7bn train journeys during the past year, according to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), 3.7% more than in the previous 12 months.

Passenger revenue grew by more than 5% to £9.3bn in 2015-16. The RDG’s Paul Plummer says it is “vital that we invest and plan long-term for this ever-growing demand”.

Even the internet may pack up

Over to the internet: the recent boom in watching television online, live streaming of video games and increasingly powerful computers plus electronic devices is pushing Britain’s internet capacity towards a ‘capacity crunch’.

Between 8-16% of Britain’s electricity – equivalent to three nuclear power stations – is consumed by the internet.

The amount of electricity needed for expanding internet use is doubling every four years. So if UK internet usage continues to grow, according to last year’s comments by Professor Andrew Ellis of Aston University, by 2035 it could use up all Britain’s available power.

Further, soon we won’t be able to squeeze any more information into the single optical fibres that send information to our laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Additional cables would mean higher bills. But surely that’s preferable to an internet that fails intermittently. Again, more spending in this area is urgently needed.

So what is our government doing about all this?

First, it set up the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP).

Second, it has just updated and replaced the NIP by the new National Infrastructure Delivery Plan (NIDP) 2016. This sets out details of £483bn of investment in more than 600 infrastructure projects and programmes to be made across the UK up to 2020-21 and beyond.

The government has already made spending commitments of more than £100bn of taxpayers’ money by 2020-21. And the private sector is ready to play a major part in this story as well.

Will it all happen?

Of course, some big questions still remain. Will all the above actually happen? And will this spending be anywhere near enough?

In order to rectify Britain’s accumulated infrastructure investment shortfall, I believe that much more investment will be needed than has already been outlined.

Our government doesn’t have any real choice here. Britain needs rebuilding, full stop!

In summary, I believe that the case for UK infrastructure is very compelling. And I’m convinced that it will create some great investment opportunities.

I’ll be bringing you more on those soon.

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