Top 5: Procrastination in transport


With the RMT union striking because Southern Railway won’t delay changes to the role of guards and ministers delaying a decision on the Hinkley C nuclear plant, here are our Top 5 procrastinations in transport and infrastructure. As Saint Augustine might have said: 'Lord give me new transport schemes, but not yet.'

1) Up in the Air

Last July, the Airports Commission recommended that Heathrow Airport would be the site of a new runway for the South East, prompting a promise from ministers to reach a decision by the end of the year.

By the end of the year, the decision had been postponed and last month it was postponed again, with politics and environmental concerns getting in the way.

But this procrastination is a drop in the Thames Estuary compared to the length of time the idea of a third Heathrow runway has been kicking around.

Thomé de Gamond's 1856 cross-Channel plans with a port/airshaft

As far back as 1979, the Thatcher government agreed to look at expanding Heathrow, followed by a 1990 study that backed the idea. The Blair and Brown governments tried and failed to bring in a new runway.

2) An island nation no more

But procrastination over Heathrow is a drop in the Channel compared to the length of time a tunnel under La Manche took to come to fruition.

In 1802, French mining engineer Albert Mathieu-Favier put forward the first ever design for a cross-Channel fixed link, based on the principle of a bored two-level tunnel. The Napoleonic wars, which began the following year, appear to have put people off for a bit. That and disagreement over the correct name for the stretch of water.

Fast forward past the entente cordiale and the avion Concorde to 1984 when the British and French Governments reached an agreement for the construction and operation of a tunnel under the Channel. Margaret Thatcher and French President François Mitterrand ratified the Treaty of Canterbury in 1987, followed by the start of boring for the service tunnel later that year. The tunnel finally opened in 1994 and has not so far resulted in a large-scale ground invasion.

3) Time tunnel

While Stonehenge itself has been around for a while, proposals for a tunnel to take the A303 underground as it passes the prehistoric monument are relatively new, dating back to around the mid-nineties. Plans have been put forward and withdrawn in the face of rising costs and accusations that they were unsuitable for the World Heritage Site.

Ministers are currently committed to building a twin-bored tunnel at least 1.8 miles long. Cost estimates for the scheme range from £275m to £1.3bn, but many people feel this is nowhere near long enough and some still doubt ministers’ commitment.

Roads minister Andrew Jones said in March: ‘Our objective is to be able to stand at the stones and not see cars’. With no sign of the tunnel actually being built, perhaps ministers are waiting for the invention of the invisible car.

4) Bridge across the river Thames

There are many bridges across the Thames but, with the exception of the Dartford crossing and the Rotherhithe tunnel, plans for new bridges and tunnels east of Tower Bridge, which go back to the last war, remain a series of pipe dreams.

The Thames Gateway Bridge was first mooted in the 1970s but formally cancelled by then London mayor Boris Johnson.

Transport for London has proposed new crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere but has yet to decide whether they should be bridges or tunnels. Ironically, in May, Boris’ successor Sadiq Khan was accused of perpetrating a sham when his review of the controversial Silvertown Tunnel did not mean calling a halt to the project in the meantime. Does the man not know how to procrastinate?

5) TBA

We’re still thinking about this one.


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