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Mitchell explains decision to quit half finished Crossrail

Crossrail programme director Andrew Mitchell is moving to the Thames Tideway project so that he can transfer his experience as the new project moves into a crucial procurement stage.

Speaking exclusively to NCE he said there was significant benefit in transferring his experience and lessons learned to the UK’s next mega project at this stage in its development.

Mitchell decision to jump ship to the £4.1bn Thames Tideway Tunnel was announced last week. He is to become chief executive of the project’s delivery organisation (News last week).

His leaving date is yet to be confirmed, but will likely be sometime later this year.

In his first interview since the announcement, Mitchell told NCE of his mixed emotions at leaving the project.

“If you look at my CV, for the last 16 years it has been building railways. So I was looking forward to the next phase,”
he said.

“So am I sad to be leaving the project? Yes. But the Thames Tideway is a hugely important project and I think it is entirely appropriate that the learnings from Crossrail are transferred.”

Evolving Crossrail

The £14.8bn rail project is soon due to evolve into a railway infrastructure project from a heavy civils one, while the Thames Tunnel is now poised to let construction contracts.

“By the end of the year all excavation works will be completed and we will have created all the space in which to build the railway,” he explained.

“This is a significant achievement from a physical and commercial risk stand point, and it also marks a change of emphasis from civils to systems.”

The key civils packages for the Thames Tunnel are out to tender, with preferred bidders due to be announced in the spring.

In parallel with work to pick the contractors who will build the project, work is ongoing to secure planning permission and the finance for the scheme.

The Development Consent Application is currently being considered by the Planning Inspectorate, and Thames Water, the government and regulator Ofwat are working together to finalise the financing arrangements.

Because of its scale, the project is expected to be financed and delivered by an independent Infrastructure Provider (IP), with its own licence from Ofwat. Procurement of the IP is expected to begin later this year.

Hurdles to clear

Mitchell said he was undeterred by the hurdles that must be cleared, adding that the success of Crossrail - which remains on time and on budget - makes him confident that the Tideway Tunnel will roll more rapidly into construction than previous projects he has been involved with.

“You can say it is not a fully approved project yet, but then neither was Thameslink when I joined it,” he said.

Mitchell left the then £5.5bn Thameslink project for Crossrail in 2009, where he was programme director.

At that time the project had just entered its first construction phase after years of indecision.

“I was there at Thameslink for the first year of actual construction,” he said.

“But I was there for five years in all, and for four of those it was working to get the confidence [of government] to let it go.

“When you look at the Thames Tideway in the backdrop of the success that is Crossrail, there has never actually been a better time to launch it.

“People are now almost comfortable about UK projects being a success.”

Subject to planning consent being granted, construction is due to start in 2016 with civils work split into three main works packages worth a total of up to £2.3bn.

Eight teams of contractors have been shortlisted for the work which is expected to take seven years.

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