Senior tunnellers have warned that the UK lacks the resources to take advantage of an anticipated global boom in workload.
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London’s Crossrail, high speed rail projects across the world and a massive investment in energy and water infrastructure projects are set to create a market worth more than £140bn.
“The next 20 years are going to be a huge boom. What will hold back the industry is resources,” said former International Tunnelling Association president Martin Knights.
Knights is also director of tunnelling at consultant Halcrow. He said his firm was desperate to recruit.
“At Halcrow we need 80 engineers for tunnelling projects in the next two years.” Knights was speaking at NCE’s Tunnelling 2010 conference last week.
Contractor Costain is also actively looking at increasing its pool of tunnelling specialists, even though it has so far missed out on Crossrail tunnelling contracts.
“What will hold back the industry is resources”
Instead, UK power and water projects are fuelling its demand for tunnelling expertise.
“Tunnelling is a potentially lucrative field for Costain,” said new tunnelling operations director Stephen Meadowcroft.
But Knights fears the UK will fail to take advantage as most of the major tunnelling work is international.
“Although here in the UK we talk about High Speed 2, we don’t have a high speed industry. We, as an industry, are found wanting,” he said.
“What is happening across Europe in countries like Germany, France and Turkey puts us to shame.”
Other senior tunnellers agreed. Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company managing director Alan Thompson said the UK’s lack of desire to get involved in tunnelling work in the Emirate was “shameful and shocking”.
“The UK industry has given us a very poor response,” he said, when outlining progress on Abu Dhabi’s 40km super sewer tunnel.