Since the last general election, the Conservatives have lavished billions of pounds on building new infrastructure – but there seems precious little to show for it.
Yesterday’s announcement that the HS2 rail line will be delayed yet again is just the most glaring example of this country’s difficulty in getting anything built.
Inflation has hit all building projects hard, but confirmation that the high-speed rail and multiple major road projects are being pushed back by years will make voters wonder exactly what they are paying for.
There are two main culprits: Treasury caution and vicious red tape that makes it much harder to build.
Under successive chancellors, the Treasury has been obsessed with bringing borrowing down over the short term, including by killing off long-term investments or slowing them down – even at the cost of future economic growth.
Perhaps the financial meltdown that followed Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s efforts to buck this grim trend justifies this caution. But that does not tell the whole story.
Major infrastructure in Britain is bogged down by laws that force developers to spend years in consultation with “stakeholders” and fill out thousands of pages of forms.
Green energy projects are held back by local politicians who approve of them in principle but in practice would rather see them built anywhere else but their own patch.
At least with HS2 we can all see what’s going on. Even more damaging is the failure to build the additional homes that Britain desperately needs to house a growing population. Restrictive planning laws mean the Government has fallen short of its targets, driving up housing prices.
Britain isn’t building. From railways to bungalows, wind turbines to bypasses, we are held back at every turn. No wonder a recession is tapping us on the shoulder.