Archive 2016 10

Major infrastructure should be central to Britain’s post-Brexit recovery Following the green light for Hinkley Point C, Chris Pike, development director for infrastructure at engineering consultancy Arcardis, gives his thoughts on why the Government must not waste any more time in prioritising other projects WHILE the long-term impact of Brexit is still unclear, its immediate impact is already being felt. Investor confidence has been hit hard, borne out of uncertainty in the financial markets, and the effect on our industry is already being felt, with construction activity already at a seven-year low. This is playing out against a backdrop of overdue decisions and ongoing questions around big infrastructure projects: runway capacity in the South East; HS2 being forced to restate its business case; Transport for the North needing to re-prove the case for investment in the north of the country; and the Shaw Report pointing the way to major changes in the rail industry. The green light for Hinkley Point will relieve investors and give a much needed boost to UK construction but the wider pattern of delaying crucial infrastructure decisions risks damaging appetite to invest in UK infrastructure, both at home and abroad. While new projects cost money, delays in decisionmaking cost even more. Even a six-month postponement can create significantly longer delays and substantial additional costs. This does not mean we should push ahead without regard for proper planning or due process, but showing decisiveness on major infrastructure projects acts as a symbolic gesture and drives investor confidence. The UK’s national infrastructure priorities today are the same as they were before the referendum. Airport expansion and backing High Speed 2 are two decisions that the government simply cannot afford to lose time on. Irrespective of Brexit, London’s population will continue to grow, which means it is vital that Crossrail 2 is also prioritised alongside building aviation capacity in the South East to enable our capital to remain strong and competitive outside of the EU. Any new runway will take a minimum of nine years to plan and build. Delaying a decision until late-2016 or even into 2017 could prove to be the deciding factor when carriers reassess their European hubs – as many are in light of the Brexit vote. The arguments around whether we need to build at Heathrow or Gatwick must stop; from a long term perspective we need both. Gatwick is easier to achieve so the smart choice would be to build this first and open a runway during 2025. Heathrow is rather more difficult both from an infrastructure and planning perspective and will take longer to achieve. The decision to build Gatwick first would allow more time to bring Heathrow on stream as a part of a much longer-term UK-wide aviation strategy. Creating further aviation capacity in the South East in the long term should also be considered, rather than waiting for capacity to run out before we commit to the long process of www.builderandengineer.4 planning new runways. These delays also have a knock-on effect on Britain’s regions. Arcadis’ latest Sustainable Cities Report, which ranks 100 global cities by their financial, social and environmental sustainability, found that important regional centres such as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow are lagging behind, economically, particularly in comparison to their European rivals. All four placed in the bottom half of the index for economic performance, with poor local and inter-city transport infrastructure appearing as perennial problems. This underlines the need for Transport for the North and the role that it would have in creating opportunities for connecting infrastructure priorities and driving collaboration and integration between local authorities, City Regions and infrastructure owners in the north. History shows us that investment in infrastructure can be a vital driver of growth. To mend the regional divides exposed by the referendum and rebalance the UK economy, government needs to boost regional infrastructure spending and prioritise HS2. This ambitious project has huge potential to act as a catalyst for growth across the country at a time when we need it most. Government must also send a clear signal that it will build the full Phase 2 route or extend Phase 1 to Manchester with an east-west HS3 route that will provide critical supporting infrastructure to underpin regional regeneration and support Transport for the North in realising its ambitions by providing a canvas for intermodal connectivity. Further devolution of powers from Westminster, including establishing Transport for the North as a statutory body, may also prove to be timely, enabling our cities to build more quickly upon these national projects and put themselves in the shop window for international investors. Maximising the potential around aviation and high speed rail hubs, particularly the HS2 stations at Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham International and Birmingham Curzon Street, as well as the Phase 2 stations in Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, the East Midlands, and at our key airports – offer great opportunities for investment, regeneration and growth. Commercial, retail and innovation hubs can then be developed around these transport nodes to attract further inward investment and add significant value to the local economy. To make the most of these opportunities, cities must have clear, cohesive plans in place. Not all have seized the moment in the way that they should. As the main beneficiary of the former government’s devolution strategy, Manchester has led the way in enacting long-term plans for spending and business rate growth, setting a template for others to follow. But others risk being left behind: Failing to push their own agenda will compromise cities’ ability to improve their longterm prospects. The time for talking is over. If “Brexit does mean Brexit” we must show we are serious about creating the national infrastructure that will support the UK in reaching out to global trading markets. This will help drive the investment that these and future critical programmes will require, fostering longer-term growth, prosperity and opportunities for all, as well as re-setting the balance between government and private investment, and healing regional divides. n Infrastructure post-brexit Chris Pike

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