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Bye, bye, red tape

Which projects should be fast-tracked by the forthcoming Infrastructure Planning Commission?

As NCE revealed last week, the campaign to give engineers a say in the development of national infrastructure has been successful.

Engineers will sit on the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), which, under proposals laid out in the Planning Bill, will fast-track five major projects a year through the planning the process.

As the bill stands, these projects will come from the sectors of energy, transport, water, wastewater and waste. Territorially, the IPC's powers only extend as far as English projects, with the exception that it can push through oil and gas pipelines running through both England and Wales.

The advantages of such a system seem self evident to most engineers, especially those that have worked on schemes like the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which have been bogged down in the planning process for not just years, but decades.

The importance of making sure civil engineers are present on the IPC panels that judge schemes is also clear, as it is they who design, build and maintain the UK's infrastructure.

But which engineers and which captains of industry should sit on the IPC? And which five projects should be the first to be fast-tracked?

The latter of these questions is the engineering equivalent of a Christmas wish-list to Santa Claus, and it is entirely appropriate that as we enter the festive period, NCE asks engineers what they want.

Unsurprisingly, the type of engineer dictated the type of response: transport engineers clamoured for the extension of the rail network; those working in water wanted to see more reservoirs; and those in energy wanted to see the development of new nuclear and carbon-capture technology speeded up.

Aside from the general need to radically improve water resources in the south east, British Water director Paul Mullord identified Thames Water's £2bn Tideway Tunnel, which will transfer sewage and rain run-off across London, as one of the top projects for the IPC to push through.

Network Rail head of civil engineering Jerry England would like to see the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street, London Waterloo, and London Euston ushered through. The Highways Agency's former interim major projects director does venture outside of his new field of rail, however, by claiming that a second runway at Stansted and third runway at Heathrow were equally deserving of being fast-tracked.

Meanwhile, there was not a tunnel to be found in High Point Rendell group strategy director and ICE vice president Scott Steedman's wish list, despite his geotechnical background.

"[The IPC's] focus has got to be on low carbon mixture for our electricity supply," says Steedman.

"That needs to include Carbon Capture Storage projects as well as new nuclear and renewables."

As for the people that should sit on the IPC panels, Mullord identified both Mouchel Parkman utilities managing director Piers Clark and Hyder Consulting head of hydrology Bob Sargent pre-eminent candidates from the water sector.

One anonymous contributor from the energy sector, meanwhile, says that it could be anyone from UK engineering if they were able to avoid the kind of scandals currently dogging the government.

"As long as they are not donors to the ruling party, have never been in national or local government, have not been in positions to do
the government favours, and are generally free of any feeling of possible corruption, I am not sure that it matters," says Steedman.

Given the current political climate, this is one criteria that is hopefully at the top of the IPC's recruiting list.POLITICAL BACKING

According to Arup director Mark Bostock, the man who made the Channel Tunnel Rail Link a reality, the key to winning planning approval for infrastructure development in the UK is winning senior political patronage.

"No major project in this country can progress without strong political support," Bostock told an audience of politicians and senior engineers, planners and financiers at a House of Commons reception this week.

He was speaking at the launch of a new book detailing the web of complex politics and planning which led a "team of mavericks" to Britain's first high-speed railway.

The book The Right Lines by former Sunday Times and Economist journalist Nicholas Faith highlights the long winded, frustrating and deeply political planning process that led to Bostock's "Arup alignment" being adopted for the route. In many ways it provides a first-class case study into how not to progress an infrastructure project.

Speaking at the launch, Faith pointed out that it was really only due to the lucky collision of a small group of confident engineers with the then secretary of state Michael Heseltine's regeneration vision for east London and former deputy prime minister John Prescott's passion transport.

Lord Heseltine pointed out that planning was so often hindered by the UK's distrust and dislike for "grand visions".

"We don't think long term and we don't think big," he said. "It's an awful indictment of the way that we run this country. What happens is you argue the big case and then the rats get at it Đ usually led by the national press Đ to undermine in any way that they can to keep the profile of ambition fixed firmly on the boots of society."

Prescott agreed that vision was crucial. "You can't have long-term strategic thinking without having planning, transport and local government together as they all form a part," he added. "[HS1's opening] has given some hope and a bit of enthusiasm to the people of this country that we can get some of these decisions right."

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