We need good infrastructure to get our regions working again

Enterprise zones and beyond: good roads, high speed broadband and functioning transport hubs are essential to ensure prosperity for all.

Last month, the government announced its latest initiative to drag the regional economy out of the doldrums. Amid all the recent local debates about the HS2 rail network – whether or not it’ll benefit anybody outside the capital, if it’s costing us too much and the to-ing and fro-ing about compulsory purchases, one message may have been slightly lost. According to communities secretary Eric Pickles, the Treasury will soon be setting up a £100 million fund to encourage infrastructure investment in specially selected ‘enterprise zones’ across England and Wales. This is all well and good, but what exactly are these zones and how will investing in them be of any benefit to areas that have been hit hard in recent years?

Enterprise zones are specially selected areas in towns and cities where things such as business rate discount, superfast broadband, capital allowances and various other incentives are introduced. The aim of Pickles’ latest scheme is to encourage businesses to flourish for the benefit of the local area. Across the country, twenty-four of these zones have been set up. If they are going to help boost the economy they need businesses to be successful and if businesses are to be successful they need things like good quality roads, high-speed broadband, car parks and public transport hubs so people can get in and out. This is what the money is designed to provide.

I think this is great news for the regional economy and is something RICS have been asking government to bring in for some time. If the capital is the nation’s financial heart, then the regions are most definitely the backbone. Put simply, we need to do all we can to ensure jobs are created and prosperity returns to each and every part of the country. If we ignore this then the long-awaited economic recovery could well take a lot longer than expected.

With these funds in place, construction firms will be able to bid for individual contracts. Naturally, successful bids need to be vetted to make sure they represent value for money, but the key thing is that we get things moving as quickly as possible. Waiting until the winter simply will not do if we want the regional economy to start to flourish again. What is needed is the right amount of investment in the right areas, but most importantly, we need growth now. 

Roads, communications technology, car parks and transport hubs will be essential to boosting regional economies. Photograph: Getty Images.

Mark Walley is Regional Managing Director of RICS EMEA.

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war