Westminster letter

Infrastructure is about rail, but it is also about roads, airport capacity, broadband, mobile networks, power, drainage and water supplies, together with sea and river defences against flooding.

Earlier this week, at the Conservative Party Conference, I took part in a fringe meeting about infrastructure and one of my fellow contributors on the panel added another component – skills.

Whatever the definition of infrastructure, for me the key issue is how these components are integrated and work together. On an everyday basis, we have all suffered the frustration when the water company digs up the road to repair pipes, only to have a cable company come along a few weeks later to dig up the same stretch of tarmac.  Now the different operators are encouraged to get together, to timetable the necessary works so that the disruption is minimised.

HS2 construction creates a large-scale version of this and our communities deserve consideration as the works are scheduled. I still think that we need to learn from mistakes and look at projects as they fit into the wider national picture, before even reaching the drawing-board.

With each advance in technology, there is a need to roll out a support network. Take the advent of electric cars:  we will need a lot of charging points at motorway service stations, in car parks, at out of town shopping areas, and (dare I say it) at railway stations too. The charging points will need to be rapid so that people can continue their daily tasks without undue delays. Homes, too, will need adaptations, so that cars can be charged there. Some of the green energy companies have been working with householders to use solar panel technology to this purpose.

I think that electric cars will come along even faster than currently anticipated as the battery technology is developed.  Along with driverless cars and delivery vehicles, the impetus is there to anticipate what the national need will be and to fulfil it according to the requirements of local communities.