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Chapter 21. A contractor's view of policy

Volume 1 Part 7
Brief résumé of Chapter 21:
A contractor's view of official policy

L. J. Cox CEng, FICE, FIHT
formerly Chairman, Tarmac National Construction Ltd
Vice Chairman, Tarmac International Ltd
Past President, IHE

Ever since his experience on the Preston By-pass John Cox has remained deeply interested in endowment of the country with the special advantages which motorways provide, of relative economy and safety in national and regional movement of people and freight. As President of the Institute of Highways Engineers in 1982, he was a leading figure in the contractors' industry whose skills are society's instrument for any structure on or under the ground. At that time he used his inaugural address to raise two important questions: In service of the economy -

1. had the industry been asked to do enough?
2. had it been given the conditions to do its best?

His answers were in each case "no", and by 2002 after the different history of the intervening years they were still "no". He fears that the British Parliamentary cycle, which can never exceed five years, has proved to stunt far-sighted vision, planning and commitment, which he sees as essential to long term civil investment on any scale.

In this carefully conceived re-appraisal of the position he took in 1982, he judges that the Parliamentary system of annual Budgets and Votes is to a degree intrinsically inimical to investment where it would be undertaken with public funds.

He sees minority opinion as it developed in the later 1970s and 1980s as having been hostile in its effect on successive Administrations' decisions about whether, and if so where and when, to extend the motorway system; and Government as too far from remote communities, and too detached from recognition of the infrastructure as the means of delivering economic advantage to the nation and its regions. Accordingly, he has consistently advocated for two decades the shifting of the onus of investment in motorways to the private sector in return for a system of collecting revenue through public channels from the users.

From the Dartford Crossing Act, 1987, with a structure of tolls designed to recover the capital cost of that bridge, at £86 million, as well as the local authorities' outstanding tunnel debts of £43.5 million, Government policy has moved in his direction over much investment undertaken for reasons of public policy, such as hospitals. The Private Finance Initiative advanced under John Major's Administration but the big unstarted schemes for the A1(M) were cut by Tony Blairs's Administration excepting only those schemes which, if implemented, would involve shadow or actual tolls for motorways and trunk roads. The role of penalty clauses for cancellation probably ensured these were not cut. While John Cox appreciates achievement he is critical of the panoply of costs and legal arrangements that will be applied to tolled motorways - arrangements as yet applying only to the Birmingham Northern Relief Road - for the government itself could have provided for those needs at much less cost. <