Why should we pay for ne­glect­ful own­ers?

Country Life Every Week - - Athena -

‘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.

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