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Blind Man’s ‘Bluff’ - An alternative vision for Britain’s Imperilled Future (Part 3)

Posted on February 14, 2013 by Professor Benfield There have been 0 comments

Along with the rest of the world, over the next 40 years the UK faces rapid population growth, pressure on land, water, energy and other resources, and an administrative legacy that even some Ministers of the Crown see as ‘not fit for purpose’.

Against this background arguments surrounding the HS2 routes are diversionary and destined to lead us all up a blind alley. But it is not too late to avoid this. With these routes now determined, politicians and planners should revisit projections and engage citizens in the quest to build a truly inspiring Britain.

Escaping Past Failures – leapfrog outdated technology to create Britain as a “Smart City”


Against this background you might be forgiven for thinking that the notions of “Lifetime Neighbourhoods”[i] and ‘Balanced Communities”[ii], promoted by planning theorists and idealists, is somewhat wishful thinking.

Whilst it is good that they are contemplating the future shape of society, it certainly seems far removed from the key issues being addressed by the top dogs of property development promoting their concepts for Smart Cities (see Smart Cities, Smart Solutions[iii]).

However, they both seem to have missed entirely the upcoming pressures now being Urban Farmers in the North America, China, the UK, and even Australia.

Somewhat alarmingly, then, the question is how can we ameliorate this situation?

Smart Solutions

‘Smart Solutions’ are not the prerogative of international property developers and their fat cat cliques, whether based in London or elsewhere.

However, as Harvey-Jones noted  20 years ago, it is they that have stolen a march on institutionalised establishment thinking at national and local government level.  It is they who have maintained and are maintaining “…an adequate rate of change on the run.”, while those who have not embraced futurological concepts and techniques are being “… forced to make changes which are hurried, ill-considered and ill thought out”1.

This is how I see the UK Government’s HS2 position.  Procrastination, dithering and lack of ability over many generations combined with Government failure to be really creative has put them in the position of merely trying to catch up with our French, .German and other continental cousins. Not only do they lack ‘Vision’, they are still playing Bind Man’s “Bluff”.

This is reflected in its relationship to any (notional) national development strategy that we may have. The Prime Minister’s apparent recognition that, unless Britain takes some positive actions soon our country will lose its place in the international economic race shows glimmerings of hope in this direction.  Broadband telecommunications, 4G[iv], and even government’s wish to physically link the outer regions with the present London ‘hub’ via HS2, all indicate that this is where Britain’s future is headed.

However, “they” still seem to be virtually deaf and blind to what is really going on in the world, lacking the insights and understanding needed to ‘dream the dream’.

Britain is Being Left Behind

The Germans and Japanese already have Maglev trains operating at 400+ Kph. The Americans have a variant of Vac-Trains – ETT, or Evacuated Tube Transport[v] (see video) under development.

With speeds up to 4,000 m.p.h.., 10 times road capacity, 50 time more transportation per KWh than electric cars or trains, and running costs 1/10th that of High Speed Rail, they are projecting incredible ROI’s that they are sure will attract private investment.

Now, couple this with the (arguable) need to escape from over concentration of wealth, housing and settlements in the South East of Britain, the need for food and energy security, and calls for lifetime neighbourhoods and balanced communities and the potential for a different kind of Britain may begin to take shape..

In the face of such developments, what on earth is the UK Government doing committing our nation to out dated technology?  In fact, what has gone wrong with Britain?

A New “Vision for Britain”

So let’s give them a dare.

Why not contemplate the whole of Britain as a ‘Smart City’?

Potentially this could relieve planning and development pressures on any one area and spread economic benefits more widely and evenly.

In turn this could facilitate more affordable accommodation – everywhere.

While some might argue that this would take too much time, re-education and persuasion to get our present clutch of planners and politicians, as well as the public, on board, I don’t think so.

In the wake of the corruption[vi] that has been exposed (and seemingly continues) across all established institutions – press, politics, police, banks, church, education, sport, etc., I think that the ‘Great British Public’ are more than ready to see their ‘masters’ challenged.

If not, then maybe giving free reign to top international development and construction companies might help us toward that Vision. After all, it has worked in other parts of the world, like Nakheel’s artificial Palm Islands in Dubai[vii],(see video)Norman Fosters ‘Green’ Masdar City[viii] in Abu-Dhabi, and even Arups Eco City, Dongtan[ix] as Shanghai’s off-shore island development.

It’s Not Impossible

Come to think of it, even an approach to China, offering them the opportunity to take over and invest in developing the routes allocated to HS2 for a UK Vac-Train, or ETT network should not be ruled out.  All we have to do is persuade them that the UK is a better investment than the USA and we could possibly save the British taxpayer a whopping £70 billion bill.

Seen as an organisation, Britain should heed Harvey-Jones’ warning that, to avoid being forced to make hurried, ill-considered and ill thought out changes, we must maintain an adequate rate of change “on the run”. Applying his observation, to do so we must capitalise far more on the creativity and imagination for which the British used to be recognised around the World.  Linking all the trends and needs in this article could see many new building, architectural, and development concepts emerging and being applied.

If, somehow, we could help and encourage people to hear, see, recognise and react positively to the rapid global changes now in process so as to engage everyone in ‘dreaming’ a new collective “Vision for Britain”, then understanding and application could follow quite rapidly.

So let’s see if we can encourage this a little with another Walt Disney saying …

“It's kind of fun to do the impossible.”

[i] DCLG

[ii] Cambridgeshire Housing Market Assessment

[iii] Property Week

[iv] 4G is the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards. It is a successor to 3G and 2G families of standards. A 4G system is expected to provide a comprehensive and secure all-IP based solution where facilities such as ultra-broadband (giga-bit speed such as 100+ MiB/s) Internet access, IP telephony, gaming services, and streamed multimedia may be provided to users.

[v][v] Evacuated Tube Transport -

[vi] Transparency International

[vii] Palm Islands Dubai -

[viii] Wikipedia Masdar City

[ix] DAC & Cities

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