Our house was built in the 1930s, and last summer we renewed our roof. It hadn’t actually started leaking, but tiles were beginning to slip and crack, and the job clearly needed doing before we had a real problem. Other people in our area have been doing the same thing. After nearly 80 years this probably isn’t surprising.
It’s clear that it’s not just houses that were constructed years ago and we’ve inherited. All around us there is infrastructure that we take for granted. Some of it – like roads – it is clear that we need to repair on a regular basis. Other elements most people only think about either when something goes wrong, or repairs are particularly disruptive.
In Derby over the last few years we’ve had programmes of sewer replacement, gas main upgrading and lining of water supplies. In 2012 there is due to be a new 132kV cable run through Derby from near Willington to by the Silk Mill, replacing one that’s around 70 years old which provides nearly half Derby’s power – and is on its last legs. Most people accept the disruption these sorts of works cause with good grace, but should we be recognising something beyond that?
Life, as we know it, would not exist without decades, in many cases centuries, of investment by people before us. The canals, railways and local road network, the whole water supply and sewage systems, the gas and electricity distribution networks, motorways and trunk roads, our homes and public buildings, factories and shops… We take them for granted, and building them all from scratch we’d find unaffordable even in these still relatively affluent times.
Yes, they are relatively affluent, despite the downturn. The navies who dug the canals and built the railways didn’t have centrally heated homes to return to – even if turning the heating on is becoming unaffordable. When Derby’s Council House was built and electricity pylons began marching across the land, children ran round the backstreets with no shoes on.
The investment that’s now needed to maintain and improve our infrastructure for the next 100 years is something that we shouldn’t skimp on – for the sake of our children and our children’s children. Although prices are rising, it is unlikely that energy and materials will ever be as cheap again as they are now, so we need to invest wisely.
What will be needed in 100 years, not just the next 20? How can we make it flexible for unknown future demands? And let’s aim to afford it ourselves, not leave it as a debt for future generations to pay, when they are likely to have their own infrastructure challenges to afford.