Crossrail 2 has recently found itself top of the infrastructure debate in Westminster, with the transport minister raising the case for increasing regional spending outside London.
This puts more pressure on the Crossrail 2 advocates to make their case for a scheme which arguably won’t deliver large economic benefits until the late 2020/early 2030s at best, and raises the issues of whether London schemes generate national benefit as well as regional wealth. But there is a leaner way of delivering delivering Crossrail 2.
Crossrail 1 has already delivered some great successes for the nation before it is even complete. Top of these has to be 14,000 skilled jobs, which together with other projects such as the Olympics, have helped to reboot our major infrastructure industry, and create personal wellbeing and incomes for workers. The industry has also developed smarter and safer ways of operating, working collaboratively with each other on a scale not seen before, to deliver a project which is firmly on track to deliver its promises to politicians and the public.
During Crossrail we have really upped our game as an industry, demonstrating the true value of bringing in operational knowledge and asset management skills early into the project. An example of this has been the use of building information modelling (BIM), with application of digital techniques on a wide range of work from design optimisation through to construction safety and data capture, which in conjunction with Transport for London and Network Rail’s AIMS database, will help to create efficient buildings for decades to come.
But consider the consequences if we let all of this effort, these jobs and talent dissipate. Yes we have the Thames Tideway, London Underground upgrades and High Speed 2 coming up (possibly), but Africa and Asia are also growing their infrastructure at a rate of knots, not to mention Eastern Europe. The best talent and techniques will not hang around for Crossrail 2 – they will dissipate across the world, applying themselves to, and stretching themselves on whatever new exciting project is next on the horizon.
The loss of that talent and know-how is adding unnecessary incremental risk in time and money to the cost, and diminishes the benefits case for Crossrail 2. This assertion is backed up by the Infrastructure UK 2010 Cost of Construction report which stated that with continuity of work between Crossrail 1 and 2, savings in the region of 10% and 15% could be achieved on Crossrail 2. That’s billions of pounds – a significant prize.
But I’m not naïve enough to underestimate the scale of the challenge. Getting speed into the planning process is something which has been talked about for years. Crossrail 1 took a Hybrid Act of Parliament and seven years plus, depending on which measure you take, but we simply don’t have that time (or money) with Crossrail 2. Even if we start the development of Crossrail 2 today it is unlikely that construction would start much before 2020 – excepting perhaps the start of enabling works (in itself worthwhile), to uncover unexpected issues and have the resolved ahead of mainstream construction.
We could do much worse than challenge ourselves to secure continuity between these schemes. There are ways that will help. Firstly, the government has established a National Infrastructure Plan (NIP): this needs ruthless assessment of business cases (commercial and social CoBA), followed by prioritisation from which to drive cohert planning guidance. Secondly, we need to sort the Planning Act 2008 – or rather practice good use of it, so that schemes like Crossrail 2 can run forward efficiently under a Development Consent Orders (DCO) supported in turn by thirdly, early contractor involvement. In other words procure the main contractors very early in the development of the scheme so their expertise contributes to make the business case strongest with the scheme’s run through planning both challenged and well-supported by expert engineering construction know-how. Finally, put a strong leadership team (the same as Crossrail 1? Why not?) in place to drive the development of the scheme – do not wait for the scheme development to have taken place for Crossrail 2 before appointing strong coherent leaders: instead back ourselves to succeed as an industry, and drive the scheme to an accelerated timescale and earlier benefits realisation.
Our industry is skilled, ready and already delivering heavy infrastructure well: at home in the UK and on the world stage of Middle East and Asia.
Why should we be reticent about this? Let us persuade this government, (and the next one), to engage our industry at the earliest possible juncture in constructing Crossrail 2, passing a message about UK expertise to the world. Let us bring the traveller and taxpayer earlier benefits by having our design and construction expertise pulled forwards to accelerate scheme completion.Let’s ensure that that our nation does not have to suffer mediocrity in commissioning new infrastructure: rather let’s benefit from excellence.
Bold leadership is necessary to get Crossrail 2 moving quickly and join up knowhow and continuity from Crossrail 1. I predict the business case benefits of earlier completion will turn out to be huge. We need a committed innovative customer; a mix of private and public funding; ability to successfully take capital project risk – and faith in our world-class community of energetic civil engineers.
When infrastructure providers assess schemes, we hardly ever take into account the lost years of benefit caused by bureaucratic vacillation and messing about which ridiculously characterises too many of our infrastructure programmes. Later we bemoan those lost years taken in getting the Crossrail or Thameslink or West Coast schemes finally underway.
Let us avoid future itchy hair-shirts, and associated loss of benefits by pressing on quickly with Crossrail 2. Remember the Olympics and show the world that performance is replicable by wise customer bodies, remaining front-runners in infrastructure commissioning – as well as in design and delivery.
With it is economic benefits from expanding London’s workforce, joining up the extensive modern housing schemes of the Lea Valley and outer London with the heart of our Capital City, I suggest the business case for Crossrail 2, has a stronger business case than the Olympics – in fact, thinking about, it is a key enabler of that Olympic legacy….
Come on, let’s follow through and get the job done.
- Nick Pollard is chief executive officer at Balfour Beatty