There’s an adage that local government is run by those that turn up.
These are often well-intentioned people lacking expertise and further hampered by a dysfunctional system that breeds the exact opposite of collaboratively planned infrastructure.
Yet when infrastructure is badly planned a number of things can happen. Ticking off obvious ones we have project delays, poor delivery, adversarial relationships and clients and construction companies losing money.
But these are business failings; what about the badly performing assets and the poor end users? These were front of mind when Mott MacDonald chief executive Keith Howells kicked off proceedings at an industry gathering hosted by the consultant last Friday.
He outlined three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental – and pointed to social as fundamental, at the firm’s relevantly titled ‘The role of infrastructure in creating socially inclusive outcomes’ event.
Warming to his theme, Mr Howells said infrastructure’s failure to drive social inclusion bred inequality and populism as demonstrated in recent voting patterns. He may not have directly mentioned the US presidential election or the Brexit vote, but I could see the baleful direction of his gaze.
Listening to the various presentations that highlighted community regeneration, Bam Nuttall chief executive Steve Fox was stung into response, laying a portion of the blame with “the transactional approach to project delivery”.
He explained that a lack of coordinated planning alongside a non-existent long-term view was thwarting social inclusion, citing indiscriminate house building without concomitant infrastructure as a prime example.
CN’s Lucy Alderson touched on this theme last week when covering Department for Education head of school places policy Matt Collins’ views that joined-up thinking was the way forward in tackling the homes and schools shortages.
Mr Fox expanded on this idea, warning that improving rail links, for example, without thinking through what else a community needed, was likely to drain it of its bright stars rather than making it easier for them to live there.
Again, this leaves disillusioned communities ripe for political influence.
So what do we want? Collaboratively-planned socially-inclusive infrastructure. When do we want it? Now!
Or something snappier.