9: Stuck on infrastructure? Planning for the transformative effects of transport infrastructure

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The chapter focuses on the planning challenges associated with High Speed Two, the future high-speed rail in England, which was expected to facilitate ‘Rebalancing Britain’ but has been through a decade of debates and ongoing controversies. Planning policy reforms and changes occurring over the decade from 2010 to the latest development in 2022 are examined. Three major difficulties are highlighted: wavering national commitments; neglected spatial equity in places with weak economic performance; and fragmented and counterproductive institutional capacity for spatial governance and capacity building. These difficulties have resulted in changing plans during the implementation process, especially under enormous pressures to balance a number of conflicting circumstances, such as addressing regional inequality through new investment in rail capacity as a major sustainable transport mode against the broader trend of climate change while the costs escalate in an era of austerity measures. This chapter argues that to achieve the ambitious High Speed Two policy goals, inadequately addressed intra-regional inequality should be rectified through new and continual reforms in institutional capacity (power and funding), appraisal criteria beyond cost–benefit analyses, and a long-term commitment that could overcome obstacles regardless of this approach of muddling through, that is, an incremental and pragmatic approach to strategic planning and its effects.

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