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Market conditions, United Kingdom 
Monday 03 Nov 2008
 
Down but not out... 
 
 
 
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Editorial

Exclusive insight into changing market conditions: WAN talks to Davis Langdon and Norman Foster 

As the collapsed residential markets around the world show no sign of life, so architects are increasingly forced to look to other sectors to fill the gap. This week, both camps in the US Presidential race announced huge plans to invest in the rebuilding of much of America’s crumbling infrastructure. At the same time, Gordon Brown the UK’s Premier and London Mayor, Boris Johnson confirmed plans for major infrastructure projects, including Crossrail, would go forward.

Speaking to WAN in Barcelona last week, Lord Norman Foster expressed that this same investment has been true in past crises: “If you look at past periods of (economic) distress, or recessions, some of those have been typified by investment in infrastructure. If the private sector is not able to keep the construction industry in employment, thriving, then you are forced to turn to the public sector.”

But while plans such as Crossrail and Building Schools for the Future, two key UK infrastructure pushes, promise to deliver billions of pounds worth of investment into the industry, they have been under planning for years with the timing being inconsequential, although convenient. Any economic boost in the industry that these schemes would have had therefore has been traded down as a band aid to the gaping wound of the crunch and one that Steve Waltho, Head of Infrastructure at Davis Langdon, says cannot compensate for the losses occurring in the housing, commercial and office sectors.

Across the pond, however, investment in infrastructure has been rebranded as a sales tool for elections. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) last week highlighted the importance of infrastructure in an advancing society as their President, David G Mongan, addressed the US House of Representatives.

“The dangers of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure to our economic health are as great as those posed by the current financial crisis," he said. "The nation’s infrastructure is the foundation on which our economy stands. Without a modern, functioning system of highways, bridges, mass-transit, drinking-water systems, sewage systems, levees, dams, school and other elements of the infrastructure, economic recovery will be impossible. Simply put, without proper investment and attention to these networks, our nation’s economic health, competitive advantage, and quality of life are at risk.”

And this is a message that both the Republican and Democrat camps have taken on board creating policy and investment proposals in response but the treatments are polar. While Obama pledges major investment ($60 billion over ten years) to rebuild roads, bridges, ports and rail McCain would put investment into energy by upgrading the national electric power transmission system instead. The contrast leaves further insecurity hanging over the question of infrastructure's ability to save the market.

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