Why should we pay for neglectful owners?
‘Savings are in no one’s interest if they’re made at the expense of infrastructure
WE have all come to accept the realities of our privatised world: switching energy companies and shopping around for telephone deals is the norm that is supposed to save us money and allow us ‘the benefits of the marketplace’. Savings are, obviously, marvellous to have, although research indicates that most of us are resigned just to take what we’re offered. Athena certainly regards the necessary internet research and painfully slow encounters with telephone call centres as mortal drudgery. More importantly, she’s acutely aware that such savings are in no one’s interest if they’re made at the expense of infrastructure.
Take the example of telephone exchanges. Often constructed by the old GPO in the 1960s, these structures used to be kept in tip-top condition. Not any more. Most are seemingly being left to rot. The telephone exchange in Lewes, East Sussex, has been so long neglected that there’s barely any paint left on its windows. Up the road in Hurst Green, a jauntily designed but thoroughly neglected exchange sits among weeds and, although apparently derelict, is, in fact, in use.
With our economic prosperity dependent on achieving high speed wi-fi everywhere, these deteriorating buildings accommodate the new technology and are therefore vital for our future, yet Open Reach, the arm of BT responsible for them, appears content just to abandon them.
A similar story can be seen on the railways, which are even more fragmented than the telephone network. Network Rail has, quite obviously, ceased to paint the posts that support its signals or indeed any of the trackside equipment. In some urban areas, graffiti artists appear to perform this service, but that can’t be relied on in the countryside. Athena wonders how long will it be before a small bill for maintenance becomes a vast cost for total renewal
Meanwhile, railway stations are only painted by the train-service operators as high as ‘health and safety’ will let them. Shiny newly painted cast-iron columns support unpainted and rusting awning roof structures—ironically, the parts that get wet and where the maintenance matters the most. An archaeologist interested in the varied history of railway branding liveries can go to Tonbridge station in Kent and see at least four corporate paint schemes from four long-extinguished train companies, each gradually retreating in their extent as ‘health and safety’ must have progressively restricted the length of ladders permitted for their use.
With summer coming, the assortment of weeds and plant growth extending from brickwork parapets and bridges will be good for insects, but ultimately destructive of the fabric we all rely on. Perhaps the present train companies don’t care as they will all be long gone, but who will bear the final cost? Athena offers no prizes for guessing.