Avoiding Icons

I’ve been reading the Eddington report, a fascinating piece of research and advice to the government of the UK. I’ll be posting on it in more detail later in the week, but I can’t help highlighting one conclusion that seems very much on point for this afternoon’s decision:

The risk is that transport policy can become the pursuit of icons. Almost invariably such projects – ‘grands projets’ – develop real momentum, driven by strong lobbying. The momentum can make such projects difficult – and unpopular – to stop, even when the benefit:cost equation does not stack up, or the environmental and landscape impacts are
unacceptable.

The resources absorbed by such projects could often be much better used elsewhere. The suggested benefit:cost ratios of such projects, although only estimates, are often lower than many other less-exciting transport projects. International evidence collated for this Study suggests that the claimed transformational impacts of such projects are rarely observed, and any speculative assessment of ‘macro-economic’ benefits would involve considerable risk, particularly in view of the large sunk cost investment that would be required. Furthermore, the projects are rarely assessed against other interventions that would achieve the same goals – it can often seem that, unless Government can somehow demonstrate that the project’s costs outweigh the benefits, the project should go ahead. In fact, the question should really be are there better ways to achieve the same goals, or are there better uses of the funds to achieve different, but more valuable goals, for the same cost?

Have we had a more iconic project in this region than the CRC?

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