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Scrutiny is the enemy

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In Britain, democratic scrutiny of projects like the Oxford to Cambridge expressway is almost non-existent by intent and decisions are made behind closed doors, wrote Guardian columnist George Monbiot.

[This disastrous new project will change the face of Britain, yet no debate is allowed, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 22 Aug 2018]

Where democracy counts most, it is nowhere to be seen. The decisions that shape the life of a nation are taken behind our backs. With occasional exceptions, public choice is reserved for trivia. The most consequential choices, as they are the longest lasting, arguably involve major infrastructure. The number of disasters in this field is remarkable. A classic paper by the economic geographer Bent Flyvbjerg, Survival of the Unfittest, explains that there is an innate tendency on the part of policymakers to choose the worst possible projects, as a result of the lock-in of fixed ideas at an early stage. This is caused, his evidence shows, not by accidental error or even delusional optimism, but by “strategic misrepresentation”. Advisers become advocates, and advocates become hucksters boosting their favoured projects.

The schemes that look best on paper, and therefore are most likely to be adopted, are those that have been scrutinised the least. Democratic debate would reveal their flaws. This is why planners who wish to leave their mark treat it as a threat. To the megalomaniacs who draw lines on maps, public opinion is like landscape features: it must be cleared out of the way.

A striking example is the government’s plan for an Oxford-to-Cambridge expressway. A decision to which we have not been party, which will irrevocably change the region it affects, is imminent. The new road, says the plan, will support the construction of a million homes.

To give you some sense of the scale of this scheme, consider that Oxfordshire will have to provide 300,000 of them. It currently contains 280,000 homes.
[…]
All the tendencies Flyvbjerg warned against are evident. Instead of asking “Do we need this scheme?”, the government agency Highways England, which is supposed to offer objective advice, opens its webpage with the heading “Why we need this scheme”.

Mr Monbiot’s article did not mention the Heathrow third runway, Hinkley Point C, HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, and Crossrail 2, but these are all instances of megaprojects where information is mostly withheld from the public, and continuous attempts are made to shut down debate.

Written by beleben

August 23, 2018 at 9:21 am

Posted in Great Britain, Politics

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