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Civils chief warns of impact on sector if UK votes to leave EU

Britain leaving the European Union could “destabilise” the construction industry, a key civils figure has warned as a public poll on the issue looms.

David Balmforth, president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, told NCE that exiting the union would have a major impact on the sector.

The newly-elected Conservative government pledged in its election manifesto to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017.

After more than 40 years entwined with countries on the continent, many UK civils projects feature funding from Brussels or are created to meet EU legislation.

Thames Water has cited compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive as one reason behind the controversial £4bn Thames super sewer scheme.

But Balmforth said even any potential impact on this mega project would be minor compared to the overall effect of the UK leaving the EU.

“The impact on the Thames Tideway Tunnel would be at the noise level if we were to leave the EU,” he said.

“Whether we take forward certain projects or not would be relatively minor compared with the overall impact on the construction industry.

“Coming out of the EU would induce economic instability. The construction industry is linked to the financial wellbeing of the country and anything that destabilises the country would destabilise the construction industry. We should be doing all we can to encourage stability.”

Balmforth said the election of a majority government earlier this month was a boost for the civils sector.

“The importance of the election result is that we don’t have a coalition made up of minority parties that have not thought about infrastructure,” he said.

“Having a mainstream party in power means we can build on the engagement we’ve already had and make the case for the importance of infrastructure.”

The ICE president hopes to see an increase in workload visibility for the sector over the next parliament.

“The encouraging thing is we don’t have to re-invent the argument about the benefit of long-term investment in infrastructure,” he said. “We can support the government to ensure we get fit-for-purpose infrastructure in the UK.”

However, he urged contractors to do their bit as well.

“We cannot be complacent about the costs of construction,” Balmforth said. “We won’t meet the challenging targets set by chief construction advisor Peter Hansford by conducting business as usual.

“We can not relax as we have an enormous amount to do and not a lot of money to do it with.”

Thames Water declined to comment on the impact of the EU referendum on the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

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