Infrastructure is a policy area that can easily be overlooked amongst the range of other concerns facing London. The main reason is that very few people are aware of the infrastructure they use and only do consider it when something goes wrong.
For example, not many people think about the intricate and vital water system that extends through the capital or how that water is provided and where it comes from.
It is only when they turn on a tap and nothing comes out that people demand to know what is going wrong.
The “invisibility” of infrastructure is one of the main reasons that it is often missed in the political debate.
The Mayoral candidates have yet to set out a clear vision of how they will develop the capital’s infrastructure requirements and none have said whether they agree with the views of the current Mayor as set out in the London Infrastructure Plan 2050.
The problem is that infrastructure isn’t an issue until it is. According to the GLA Intelligence Unit, London’s population is set to rise to 11.3 million inhabitants by 2050, an increase of almost 3 million from the current number of people living in the city. The boom in population is having a significant impact on resources, including the provision of water and energy.
If these projections are correct, then water demand will exceed supply by 10 per cent in 2025 and by 21 per cent in 2040. Simultaneously, there is less and less capacity in our energy system, as demonstrated by the fact that National Grid had to spend £36 million over the summer to avoid blackouts.
Continual procrastination by policymakers have made these issues a ticking time bomb which, when exploded, could cripple London dramatically, damaging the economy and people’s lives.
Although much of infrastructure is not within the incoming Mayor’s direct powers, the new Mayor should be campaigning to secure investment in infrastructure across the city, for example for a vastly improved rail system in South London to unlock the cities true housing potential or publicising the fact that London’s energy supply is close to capacity with black outs becoming a real threat.
The Mayor is in a unique position to bring together the UK Government with local authorities and external organisations to help find solutions to these worrying issues.
Now is the time for each candidate to say what they would do if they find themselves in City Hall and to seize the agenda before these problems bring London to a halt.
Suzanne Moroney is London Director of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).