My cabbie’s idea to lay a great water pipe under HS2 to transport water from north to south is not as daft as it seems

Shaun McCarthy

Taxi drivers know everything don’t they? This week I was in Warrington visiting my friends at United Utilities and was delighted to learn they are still applying advice I gave them in 2008 and have made great strides in their sustainable supply chain programme.

On the way back to the station I was treated to 20 minutes of pure entertainment from the sort of cabbie who has an opinion on everything and is determined that you should hear it while occupying the back of his cab.

Among many subjects covered in this wide-ranging diatribe was HS2. In common with most people I speak to, he thinks HS2 is a white elephant in waiting, waste of money etc.

Do we really join up our thinking around infrastructure or do we have a sector by sector approach?

Ten years ago I am sure the same cabbie would have said the same about the Olympic park, his dad would have said the same about the Channel Tunnel, and I am sure that Brunel would have had his critics among his descendants.

However, his criticism was also backed up with some constructive ideas. His basic idea was based on the theory that we should derive maximum value for digging up swathes of our countryside, like laying a great big water pipe under the line.

Considering we have no capability to transport water around the country this is an opportunity to transfer water from the wet North-west to the dry South-east. Is this such a daft idea?

And while we are at it, what about fibre optic infrastructure and power lines to transmit decentralised renewable energy? Why not erect wind turbines along the trackside and hook them up to transmission infrastructure to contribute to energy self-sufficiency, save energy costs and reduce carbon emissions?

Some of these ideas may be fanciful but the core question is not. Do we really join up our thinking around infrastructure or do we have a sector by sector approach? We think about rail, or energy, or water, or telecommunications.

We do not tend to think about infrastructure as a subject in the round. I was very proud of the thinking that went into the Olympic Park, with multi-utility infrastructure and everything sized for four times the current capacity.

The two CCHP plants serving the park and the adjacent Westfield shopping centre are linked for maximum efficiency. The transport infrastructure was good too, with national and international rail joining up with the tube, local rail and DLR services. However this example is too rare.

So if you ever hear about a big water pipe under HS2 you heard it here first and the idea came from a cabbie in Warrington.

Shaun McCarthy is an independent adviser, author and speaker in the field of sustainable business policy and practice