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Poor Wylfa. The nuclear power station nestles in a landscape of bliss in north Wales, but it was never glamorous enough for Westminster. This week the Japanese firm Hitachi failed to get sufficient government subsidy for its rebuilding, and. Wylfa lacks the political magnetism of the only other spearhead into Britain’s new nuclear age, .
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Hinkley Point was different. It was blessed by France’s then economy minister,, and seen as talisman of the “golden era” of Anglo-Chinese relations under David Cameron and George Osborne. This was despite doubts over its security and a blistering national audit report on its £22bn cost and . The project was not about money or energy but about preening diplomacy. Wylfa could eat its heart out.
If I were starting a business school I would offer an honours course in vanity infrastructure. In April, Boris Johnson finally issued “” on the most lavish construction project in Europe, Britain’s new railway, HS2. Its value for money was plummeting even before coronavirus, at just £1.20 for every £1 in cost, and possibly .
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Inquiries by the National Audit Office and Commons Accounts Committee were scathing not just atfrom £34bn in 2010 to £106bn today, but at the morass of consultants, facilitators, conflicts of interests and dubious bonuses swilling round HS2 Ltd, its boss . Supporters continued to weave and dodge between arguing the case for speedier journeys, more commuter capacity and a “ ”.
What has been intriguing about HS2, like Hinkley Point, is its political invulnerability. From now on it will be charging British taxpayers over £100m a week for the scheduled 20 years of the project. The sums are so stupefying as to have an inverse effect. They are taken as a sign of political machismo, of “build, build, build”. Opponents have included even Johnson and his svengali, Dominic Cummings. Other ministers are only too aware that £100m a week cannot avoid impacting on their projects.
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Over last winter, HS2’s still uncertain Whitehall champions were desperate to get it across the threshold where cancellation would appear more politically damaging than proceeding. Despite increasing evidence that the line would largely benefit rail capacity into London and may never go, they spliced it on to Johnson’s and demanded a decision in April, in the midst of the Covid crisis. They won what is currently Whitehall’s most coveted prize, Johnson’s .
The absurdities of vanity politics were no less evident at the other end of the spectrum in this week’sin London. The bridge’s owners, Hammersmith and Fulham council, had been screaming for years to London’s mayor about its deterioration, which they could not possibly afford to repair. The bridge was closed to traffic and the public is now banned from walking over it and even boats from passing under it. That scuppers next year’s boat race.
The chief target of the screaming was London’s previous mayor, Johnson. At the time he was splurging money on vanity projects, including a, a giant helter skelter, rear-entry buses, police water cannon and a £175m . By the time the garden bridge was halted by Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Khan, £43m of taxpayers’ money had vanished into the project. That is almost exactly the sum needed to .
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Since closure coincided with that of London Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, the story was a gift to last week’s New York Times: “London’s bridges”. The headline instantly had the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, racing to Hammersmith to declare himself with Khan and promising urgent action to save the bridge. He seemed unaware that his boss was chiefly to blame. Now the cost of full restoration of the bridge has , or 10 days’ spend on HS2.
Business students will note the role the media plays in these projects. Whitehall has a formal audit, meticulously charting their value for money. This appears to have no bearing on what gets cabinet approval. Meanwhile, the Treasury’s traditional scepticism towards public extravagance, savagely austere towards local government spending, vanishes in a puff of glory when the rate of return is measured in . .
The assumption that all public infrastructure must be good is now holy writ. Every political speech, every party manifesto, bows before it. The Trades Union Congress and Confederation of British Industry cry in unison. Infrastructure is “investment” – in power stations, railways, prisons, schools. Anything built, its mere creation, implies a positive rate of return. No one questions priorities or asks who will pay for what goes on inside. As for Wylfa, it is clearly the Hammersmith Bridge of power stations. Perhaps it should call the New York Times.
• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist
Another Falcons collapse: Foles' 3 TDs lead 30-26 Bears win .
ATLANTA (AP) No matter how bad things might have seemed a week ago, the Atlanta Falcons somehow managed to make it even worse. Yep, another epic fourth-quarter collapse.This one could spell the end for embattled coach Dan Quinn, who already carried the burden of the biggest squandered lead in Super Bowl history. © APWF Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller (17) prays after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Atlanta. The Chicago Bears won 30-26. The entire Chicago Bears team had the initials of former player Gayle Sayers on their jerseys.