Devolution: so what’s actually happening across the UK?
More from: Elevating Infrastructure | Making the case
The May government’s “modern industrial strategy”, published in January, has placed infrastructure at the heart of Britain’s drive to increase its global competitiveness.
Alongside the government’s plans to increase the nation’s science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills and tackle barriers to innovation, the Conservatives have highlighted the need to drive growth across the entire country.
At the same time, a £556M investment for the Northern Powerhouse has been announced, further evidence that the government is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to devolution.
New Civil Engineer has taken a closer look at the infrastructure highlights for 2017 and beyond in four key areas: London, the “Northern Powerhouse”, Scotland and Wales.
Although Britain does not mean London, the capital cannot be ignored. Connectivity is a key driver for the city’s infrastructure plans, joining the dots and keeping London’s pulse active.
“The biggie really in London and the South East continues to be transport,” says advocacy group London First’s executive director of policy David Leam. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that transportation projects are top among the ones to watch.
Many of the city’s big projects are already under construction. Tunnelling for the Ferrovial Agroman/Laing O’Rouke JV’s Northern Line extension is starting in March, connecting the new Nine Elms development and neighbouring American Embassy to the centre of the city. Journey times from Nine Elms to the City could be less than 15 minutes, compared to around 30 at present, when the extension opens in 2020, according to TfL.
This project’s funding also adds an interesting angle, described by Leam as a “quasi-test model” – over time, business rates will pay for the extension.
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“It’s being paid for by economic growth and success,” says Leam, adding that although transport will unlock potential growth.
“It’s pretty unique in that respect,” he says.
Meanwhile the finishing line is in sight for Crossrail One, with the main civils construction phase complete and services due to be introudced on parts of the route in late 2018. But this is the year to keep an eye on the future as key decisions on Crossrail Two should be made. According to Leam, businesses in London and the surrounding areas are keen for the project to go ahead.
“Have no doubt about it – we see this as the critical next generation transport project for the South East,” says Leam. ”This is the key project that we need to start building as soon as possible in the 2020s and it’s absolutely vital to tackle worsening problems of congestion on key bits of the rail infrastructure,” he says.
Although the project is still in the very early stages, Network Rail and Transport for London are jointly submitting a strategic business case to the government in the spring.
Other projects to watch in London include the Silvertown Tunnel, which will help ease congestion around the Blackwall Tunnel in Greenwich. The project is currently subject to a public consultation, which due to finish in April. A public private partnership model is being considered for funding. If successful, the tunnel could open to traffic in 2023.
Heathrow’s third runway is obviously on the must-watch list, although it has yet to receive planning permission for its new runway and is currently waiting on the government’s National Policy Statement. And although not under the transportation umbrella, keep an eye on Tideway – tunnelling is due to begin later this year.
The Northern Powerhouse covers the North East, the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside. In the past it could have been argued that the Northern Powerhouse attracted lots of innovative transport ideas, but that they lacked coherence. Not anymore – since Transport for the North (TfN) was founded in 2014, the region has become more focused. TfN will apply for sub-national transport body status this year, which wil enable it to take more power from central government and allow the body to apply its own strategy across the North for the first time.
“It means that the North will talk with one voice to bring about economic growth,” says TfN strategic road network director Peter Molyneux.
The Northern Powerhouse’s population is twice that of London and connecting people to cities like Manchester is key for growth.
Current projects in the region are mainly UK government funded, with Network Rail’s Northern Hub including Manchester’s Ordsall Chord project.
Ordsall chord proposal
“It is unlocking the last piece of difficult infrastructure in the centre of Manchester,” says Transport for Greater Manchester head of rail Amanada White.
Due to finish later this year, the Ordsall Chord scheme includes 300m of new track connecting Manchester city centre’s main rail stations and opening up direct routes to Manchester Airport. The city is also set to benefit from the electrification on several lines including the Manchester to Preston route.
The Trans-Pennine route upgrade is another proposed project. It is intended to improve track infrastructure between Manchester, Leeds and York, with work set to finish by 2022-2024, although it is still at the planning stage.
One of the biggest road projects on the horizon is the Northern Trans-Pennine project, aiming to improve connectivity on the A66 and A69. Similarly the Manchester Quadrant project is looking at how to improve east-west links around the M60/62 corridor – both projects are in the early stages and looking to develop an outline business case this year.
Further plans for projects up to 2050 will be listed in TfN’s strategic transport plan, on which a public consultation will be held at the end of this year. TfN stresses that while it is far too early to make any decisions on funding, it will not rule anything out for future projects – including a mixture of new and existing funding streams.
Aside from transport, the nuclear power sector is looking busy in the North with the ongoing decommissioning of Sellafield and the proposed Moorside plant nearby high on the agenda.
“In terms of road projects in Scotland, we are very busy,” explains Transport Scotland director of major transport infrastructure projects Michelle Rennie.
Upgrades to the A9 and the A96 are top of the list as connectivity emerges again as a major driver for infrastructure projects. The £3bn A9 work requires dualling between 11 points from Inverness to Perth totalling 129km with construction of the first section between Kincraig and Dalraddy set to finish in the summer.
The project – which is part of the Scottish government’s plan to link the seven major cities – faces environmental challenges as it is set to run through sensitive areas including national parkland.
“Obviously because it’s such a long road it passes through a variety of different environments but they’re primarily rural in nature,” says Rennie.
The project faces another environmental challenge – the bracing Scottish winter weather must be factored into construction schedules, with the project set to finish in 2025. Finance for most of the sections is not yet secured but there is already a possibility that private financing will be considered.
The £35M A96 dualling between Inverness and Aberdeen will arrive a little later in 2030, but faces similar challenges to the A9 upgrades. Bidding for design work on the project is currently open and due to close early March.
Transport Scotland’s £500M M8/M73/M74 motorway improvements project is nearing completion, reducing travel time between major Scottish cities. The Scottish Roads Partnership (SRP) consortium is due to finish work this year having started in 2014.
One of Scotland’s best-known current infrastructure projects is the Queensferry Crossing, soon to be the world’s longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world at 2.7km. Part of the £1.35bn Forth Replacement Crossing scheme, the new bridge is due to open in May.
In rail, phase two of the Highland Main Line upgrade project is one to watch. Phase one was completed in December 2012 as a cost of £1.2M and formed the first part of a plan to reduce journey times between Inverness and Scotland’s “Central Belt” – its most densely populated area –by 2025. The Network Rail-funded project is still in the design stage and detailed information on the work is not expected until later this year, but it will aim to reduce journey times and initiate an hourly service by March 2019.
Big ideas are being discussed in Wales, but there are few shovel-ready projects as of yet. Network Rail’s £2.8bn Great Western route upgrade is an exception, an ongoing electrification programme running from London to Cardiff which is expected to finish in 2018. But plans to electrify the route further into Wales are expected to happen later in Network Rail’s next five year spending cycle CP6, which runs between 2019-2024, which some feel creates an element of uncertainty.
“It would be wrong in so many ways if the electrification stopped at Cardiff. It would send so much of a message that effectively the economy stops here, which is wrong,” says ICE Wales Cymru director Keith Jones.
The South Wales Metro project is the key project here, set to improve transport between Cardiff and surrounding areas. Modes of transport include heavy and light rail as well as bus rapid transit.
“If you imagine a London Underground map, and then put that on the surface for the south Wales valleys and Cardiff and Newport, that’s the integrated transport vision which the Welsh government is supporting,” says ICE Wales Cymru chairman and Mott MacDonald development director Stephen Lawrence.
According to the Welsh Government, the first phase of the project – £77M of transport infrastructure improvements in south Wales – has begun. But most of the infrastructure work is to be taken on by the new operator, which will be appointed by Transport for Wales at the end of this year. The four bidders are Abellio Rail Cymru, Arriva Rail Wales/Rheilffyrdd Arriva Cymru, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation Cymru.
The South Wales Metro project highlights Wales’ post-Brexit funding conundrum – although it is being funded by a mixture of UK government, Welsh government and private money, there is roughly £170M of European funding involved in the project, which the Welsh government is working hard to keep.
Other projects on the horizon include the proposed £1bn M4 corridor around Newport, which is mired in planning problems. A public consultation on the project, due for November last year was rescheduled for 28 February and is expected to last five months. If it goes ahead, the project is expected to finish in 2022.
In the energy sector Horizon Nuclear Power’s planned Wylfa Newydd project in Anglesey will give the Welsh energy sector a significant boost, although it is early days for the Japanese-funded project. HNP will submit its application for planning permission later this year with an aim to generate electricity within the first half of the 2020s. Lastly, Tidal Lagoon Power’s £1.3bn Swansea Bay pathfinder project is one to watch this year after the Hendry review backed it in January.