King’s Cross Square represents the progress that has been made towards establishing the area as a hub of commerce and tourism, showing the impact infrastructure can have.
The infrastructure sector has escaped the worst of the downturn, with Crossrail, Heathrow Terminal 2 and improvements to the rail network keeping the sector afloat. The activity will continue with the electrification of the Great Western Railway and upgrading of London Bridge station. Roads are receiving a fillip too, with improvements to the M74 in Scotland, the replacement for the Forth road bridge and the M25 managed motorway works.
There is a perception that the coalition has abandoned its commitment to the green agenda, with the dilution of the Energy Companies Obligation for home improvements and the cancellation of RWE’s Atlantic Array wind farm. But other schemes are going ahead, notably the £700m Humber Gateway offshore wind farm, which is under construction.
The most obvious manifestation of infrastructure spending is the refurbishment of large city-centre railway stations. Works at Edinburgh’s Waverley station are well advanced and the first phase of Birmingham New Street opened in April. This marked the transformation of the dungeon-like sixties concrete monstrosity, which symbolised all that was bad about Birmingham, to a light, bright station fit for the 21st century. The futuristic stainless-steel cladding is advancing, banishing the old car park style building into distant memory.
The most significant improvement was the completion of the new King’s Cross Square in London. This was the final chapter in the renaissance of King’s Cross station and next-door neighbour St Pancras. This area used to be a byword for drugs and prostitution; now it is firmly established as a vibrant quarter of London, proving that the return on investment in infrastructure is much bigger than the cost of the works.