I read recently that a cinema in Bournemouth was set to show Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 35 years after the local council prevented the film being screened in the town. Controversial and funny it provided some comedy gold, including the famous ‘What did the Romans ever do for us’ line which prompted the response: “Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”Well, although the Romans did their bit, we had some other fine developers of crucial infrastructure in our more recent history and here I’m thinking about the Victorians. We can thank their engineering skills and foresight for our sewers and water systems and many of our leading hospitals and schools. Of course, after well over 100 years of sterling service, even the best engineered sewers and well-built schools sometimes need replacement, because demands and standards change.
Right now the borough’s Victorian infrastructure is getting quite an overhaul. Gas mains built 120 years ago are being replaced, Thames Water is embarking on ground surveys of the Counters Creek sewer, built by the great engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette, as part of work to try and prevent the type of flooding we saw in 2007 and, of course, the Victorian Marlborough School building in Chelsea is being replaced with a modern school, and some of our major local hospitals also have big plans to upgrade and redevelop.
I’ve been a politician for quite a while now and one thing I learned very quickly is that major infrastructure projects bring disruption and disruption brings concern and often complaints and anger. In these cases I would urge people to look at the bigger picture. Even conservative-minded people like me recognise that sometimes change is unavoidable if the borough is to retain its unique attractiveness as a place to live.
Anyone who witnessed the misery that the local floods brought with them in 2007 would know that work on the Counters Creek sewer, to ensure such an occurrence is not repeated in the future, is vital.
In February next year work will begin in the borough on replacing metal gas mains with more durable modern pipes. It’s a major London-wide project costing nearly £1 billion. The programme will reduce the amount of unplanned work on the gas network and is essential to provide safe and reliable energy to businesses, schools and homes.
A lot has been written about Marlborough School and why we are replacing it with a new building. It certainly is fair to say that the Victorian building has given great service for a long time. But, the way we educate our children has changed and the building really has some quite stark shortcomings: perhaps the most major being that it really is not acceptable today to have a building that a disabled pupil cannot move around in.
I hope that the infrastructure works, be they gas pipes, sewers or school buildings will prove as durable and future proof as the originals created by the sweat and genius of our Victorian predecessors.