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Aecom boss: Heathrow Southern Rail delay sign of 'distracted' DfT

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Delays to the decision regarding the Heathrow Southern Rail proposal is a “great example” of how the government is slowing London’s infrastructure project pipeline, according to Aecom chief executive of civil infrastructure EMEA Colin Wood.

As part of its 2019 Future of Infrastructure report, Aecom has called for reforms to the way infrastructure projects are funded, governed and approved.

Wood believes that more powers should be devolved to the National Infrastructure Commission and local authorities to avoid approval delays to proposed schemes.

He added that factors such as Brexit mean that the Department for Transport’s is “understandably too busy” to properly engage with infrastructure schemes.

A decision on market-led rail proposals was expected in autumn 2018. While some schemes, such as the HS4Air scheme and the Windsor to Heathrow rail link were “rejected outright” at the end of last year others still await a final decision.

Wood said that the delay in properly responding to market led rail proposals such as the Heathrow Southern Rail scheme is proof that the government has “too much on”.

“Heathrow Southern Rail was submitted in response to the government’s call to market led proposals,” Wood told New Civil Engineer. “Instead of receiving a detailed response we have had to chase the government to make a decision.

“The problem is that we are having to wait for decisions on schemes that are ready to go now. We all know Heathrow needs to expand its transport access routes, so there is real need to make a decision quickly.”

Wood added: “Understandably the government is busy and distracted with other things such as Brexit right now. That’s why we are calling for a cross-party infrastructure group to be given the power to focus on schemes that are needed.”

While Wood believes that major projects like High Speed 2 will always come under central government’s remit, he believes that the National Infrastructure Commission should be granted more powers to rule on major schemes, while powers should be devolved to local authorities to decide on smaller schemes.

As well as accelerating decision making, Wood believes that devolving powers to local authorities would improve public support for infrastructure projects.

The 2019 Future of Infrastructure report concludes that in the wake of high profile failures such as the Garden Bridge project, the public has little faith in the government’s ability deliver public sector infrastructure projects in London.

The report states: “Fewer than one in three Londoners feel that those in power are making the right decisions about what infrastructure projects to fund, and almost half (49%) think that changes in elected officials often result in major changes to infrastructure policy.

“More than half of respondents in London (52%) believe that city officials take a short-term view of infrastructure planning and 59% state that large-scale transportation projects in the capital are usually delivered late.” 

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