HIGHWAY ENGINEERS are being targeted in a big recruitment drive after growing speculation that the Government is preparing for a road building spree, engineers told NCE this week.
After a three-year period which saw annual road spending drop from £1.6bn to £800M, road contractors and consultants said they were preparing for what was widely seen as the Government's 'stealth' revival of road construction in the UK.
Plans for six road schemes in the Highways Agency's Targeted Programme of Improvements have been brought forward and an extra £25M was included in last month's Budget to speed up another six schemes. This week the Highways Agency announced it would spend an extra £40M on road schemes next year.
Mott McDonald divisional director for transport Clive Livingstone told NCE that it planned to enlarge its transport division by up to 15% in the short term and possibly more in future.
'We are not alone in recruiting, ' he said. 'There has been such a change in the market since November and we are delighted.'
Motts has just picked up four road related contracts including design of the 2km cut and cover tunnel under Stonehenge and bypasses on the A10, the A57/A628 in Yorkshire and in Norfolk.
He added: 'I believe the Government has recognised that we can't just turn off the tap in terms of road building - we've got to have a balance.'
This week Costain chief executive John Armitt also said that the contracting group was taking on 35 graduates.
He claimed the industry could cope with a big increase in demand.
But he said that recent cutbacks at firms such as Taylor Woodrow would create a ready made job market to cope with demand.
Armitt said: 'We have been asked to dust off some plans at the request of the Highways Agency. We can see several schemes coming forward in the next six months. It is recognition by the Government that it can't keep people and goods moving in this country without spending more money on roads.'
The situation in England follows a similar rush for highway engineers in Scotland which started earlier in the year (NCE 10 February). A shake up in the Scottish maintenance regime prompted the recruitment drive north of the border.
A DETR source confirmed that further road building was likely to result from its ongoing studies of multi-modal corridors. 'If the multi-modal studies recommend that road building is the best answer in certain cases, then the practical effect may be that road building gets a rather higher profile in the next few years, ' he said.