Cllr Simon Fawthrop is a councillor for Petts Wood & Knoll Ward in Bromley.
There are multiple reasons why large vanity Infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Crossrail 2 are not needed.
I’m not just talking about the huge costs involved or the environmental challenges of these projects, or the likelihood that they will over run their budgets – all of which are factors that most people will dwell upon whilst opposing them.
The projects all sound nice, and it will no doubt give politicians a boost to be their exponents of these projects, But the reality is these projects are all eighteenth century technology, even if the end product is a bit faster than their eighteenth century forbearers.
There is a much better way to invest which centres on twenty-first century technology and giving individuals greater work freedom. Boris Johnson has talked about gigabit ethernet connections for every household – and here’s the reason why he is so convinced.
The cost of Crossrail 2 is roughly £1 billion per mile. Compare this with the cost for a mile of a one thousand million terabyte digital link (1021 Bytes), which is approximately £500K per mile, and you can see that investing in the UK’s digital infrastructure is more cost effective.
Imagine a Conservative Government that was bold enough to invest in these huge bandwidths across the country, links connecting into all of our major cities from Scotland and Northern Ireland to Wales and England: the digital world would become a reality for everyone.
Who needs train journeys which take hours when you can have instant connectivity via, say, Skype, Facetime or Webex – thus freeing up Government capital programmes for real issues like road bottlenecks, road repairs such as pot-holes and genuine rail and tram improvements?
The interesting thing is that rolling out a major fibre network is much quicker than delivering a project like HS2 and, by using existing rail and road networks as part of the connectivity route, the need for endless battles with residents and land owners along the route would be negligible.
Even better, it can be done in any order and will have benefits for any connection as soon as it goes live. It is of course less energy intensive than high speed rail, as Superfast Connectivity sends light signals (zero weight) down the fibre rather than 185 tonnes of train down a track.
But here is the real advantage: by reducing connectivity times, the need for long distance travel around the UK is all of a sudden dramatically reduced. In the real world, this trend is already happening with more people working flexibly and from remote rather than office locations. The benefits of such ways of working are incredible: recently, one division of the Metropolitan Police which deals with cyber-crime found there were great benefits in efficiency, reduced absenteeism and productivity gains as more work was completed remotely (generally from home but it is increasingly from mobile devices).
If we can encourage more companies and businesses to allow their back office staff to work remotely, there will be huge benefits not only for both to the businesses and to the employees, but also for the public sector too. These will mean fewer crammed trains, buses and tubes, and fewer cars on the roads, which benefit the environment.
People who are based in their communities are likely to be safer, their homes are less likely to be burgled, they are likely to be happier and healthier, and sick days will be reduced, as those who are too ill to come to work under normal circumstances might be able to do some work remotely and are less likely to spread any airborne diseases around the office.
Those who work remotely are also going to be more in control of their work-life balance, being able to pick up children from school for example during what might otherwise have been a tea break. If people work remotely they are also going to be better off, being given a wage rise from not having to spend as much on commuting.
So what about those massive infrastructure projects? Well, they just aren’t needed. By investing in the trend towards more local working, the Government would as a by-product be increasing capacity on the existing networks, road, rail, tram and bus by reducing the demand for those services, making more space for those who do really need to travel to work.
Those keen eyed amongst you might even be able to work out the long-term benefit to the tax payer of reduced infrastructure spend, and the cost of ongoing maintenance. By investing in the core digital network and removing the vanity infrastructure projects like HS2, it will allow us to invest in our rural communities. Giving them connectivity is a must for any Conservative Government.
This goes back to the principles that puts Conservatives at their most formidable – namely, setting people free from the pseudo-state of the massive corporates and giving individualsthe freedom to manage their own lives. When we champion the values that have always given the Conservatives an edge, we win electorally. The Conservatives have set out to be carbon neutral by 2050, and are already doing really well against that target, investing in this technology is investing in carbon neutrality, because it is those individual journeys which add up.
The final benefit is that less office space over-all will be required. I’m often told there is a housing shortage so, rather than build on Greenbelt and green field sites, what better and quicker way to get more homes than turning unused office space into homes? With no need for planning permission as these are covered mainly by permitted development, this is a quick and easy way to more homes.
As Conservatives we don’t want to legislate to make this happen, but we could certainly give tax incentives: after all lower taxes are part of our core beliefs. We have always been at our best when championing greater freedom – so encouraging mighty corporates to give their employees greater freedom would be a vote winner. So now with a dynamic super-charged Conservative Government let’s get on, and go digital big time.