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NCE Live News Monday 9 September 2013: HS2 questioned by MPs

The Public Accounts Committee says the government has not proven that the proposed rail link between London and the North is worth its £50bn budget.

4pm: Morrison Utility Services and Amec have secured a five-year, £200M extension to their mains replacement contract with Wales & West Utilities.

It means the pair will work for the utility firm until 2018 on its programme to replace 420km of gas mains every year.

Wales & West Utilities chief executive Graham Edwards said: “Since the alliance launched in 2008, there has been a commitment by WWU, Amec and Morrison Utility Services to build strong working relationships, share best practices and work towards the common goal of delivering the extensive programme of work on time and to budget.

“There has also been a clear commitment to health, safety and environmental management, and the standard of customer service has gone from strength to strength.”


3.30pm: The Homes and Communities Agency has revealed plans to procure a contractor for an £18M job to build new road in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The body issued a prior information notice in OJEU for the forthcoming job to design and build the 1km-long spine road in Goole.

The proposed road runs between an existing roundabout and a new signalised junction, and will service future development plots.

Formal procurement is due to start soon. More informaiton here.


2.30pm: The derailment that caused train services to be suspended between Nottingham and Newark for almost two weeks was caused by a large void in the ground underneath the track, it has emerged.

The Rail Accident Investigations Board today said a “severe track dip” linked to a 700mm-deep void was behind the incident at Stoke Lane level crossing on Tuesday 27 August.

It said work had taken place in July to lay high voltage electrical cables into a 53m-long tunnel under the crossing.

The RAIB said its investigation would “seek to identify the sequence of events that led to the creation of the void”. It will include a review of the construction work that took place in the area of the level crossing.


12.30pm: Energy secretary Ed Davey has insisted the Mackay/Stone report on shale gas extraction should “reassure environmentalists” about the controversial activity.

Chief scientific advisor Professor David MacKay and Dr Tim Stone found that the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction was likely to be comparable to that for conventional gas (see 12.15pm below).

Davey said: “It should help reassure environmentalists like myself that we can safely pursue UK shale gas production and meet our national emissions reductions targets designed to help tackle climate change.”

He added: “UK shale gas production must not be at the expense of our wider environmental aims – indeed, if done properly, it will support them. I am determined to make that happen.”


12.15pm: The carbon footprint of shale gas extraction is likely to be comparable to that for conventional gas, according to a study.

Chief scientific advisor Professor David MacKay and Dr Tim Stone today published their report into the environmental implications of fracking.

DECC chief scientific advisor Professor David Mackay said: “Our study indicates that shale gas, if properly regulated, is likely to have a greenhouse gas footprint no worse than the other fossil fuels that society currently depends on. 

“To ensure that shale gas exploitation doesn’t increase cumulative greenhouse gas emissions it is crucial that society maintains efforts to drive down the costs of low-carbon technologies, including carbon capture and storage.”


12pm: More international consultancy takeover news here, with New-Zealand-headquartered Opus buying Canadian advisory firm Stewart Weir.

Opus, which has 12 offices across the UK, will pay CAD$50M (£31M) upfront for the firm plus up to CAD$40M in performance-based payments.

The acquisition will add 550 staff and six offices to Opus’ Canadian operation. The company will have a global headcount in excess of 3,000.

Opus chief executive David Prentice said: “Our strategic plan calls for both diversification in existing markets and expansion into new markets.

“This acquisition fulfils both those objectives. Oil and gas is a vital global industry, and Canada is well positioned for growth.”


11.30am: The Ukraina Hotel in Moscow is the most architecturally vain skyscraper in the world, according to a study.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat listed towers by their ‘vanity height’, or distance between highest usable space and actual highest point.

It found the Ukraina Hotel had the greatest vanity ratio, with 42 per cent of its height above the top occupiable floor.

The Burj Al-Arab hotel in Dubai is close behind, with 39 per cent of its 321m height sitting above the highest occupiable floor.

World’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa, also in Dubai, has a vanity height of 244m – bigger in itself than all but 10 of Europe’s buildings.


11am: Amsterdam-based Arcadis is to project manage the £17bn scheme to create new metro lines in Paris.

The consultancy will also provide programme and advisory services for the Grand Paris Express project.

Grand Paris Express involves adding 200km of metro lines in the French capital, mainly underground, over the next 16 years.

Arcadis executive board member Friedrich Schneider said: “Our extensive capabilities in project and programme management, broad expertise in underground metro systems and our ability to take an integrated view to projects positioned us well for this challenge.”


10.45am: US construction services firm Jacobs is to buy Australian consultancy SKM.

SKM has recommended that its shareholders vote for the proposal subject to an independent expert’s views and in the absence of a better offer.

SKM’s chief executive Santo Rizzuto branded the proposed move an “exciting opportunity”.

“It uniquely positions us among our global peers, and opens the way for us to achieve even greater things in the future. It adds scale, diversification and growth opportunities to our business,” he said.


10.30am: The government-sponsored Technology Strategy Board is to invest £60M into projects that make construction quicker and improve the quality and efficiency of buildings.

It is hoped the cash will spark a further £60M of private investment into the Low Impact Building Innovation Platform, along with £30M from the government and other bodies.

Business secretary Vince Cable said: “Investing in energy efficient construction projects is important to help industry and government achieve our aims of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2025.

Projects already funded through the platform include the development of energy efficient systems to refit Victorian homes.


9.45am: The HS2 scheme is under the spotlight again, with an influential panel of MPs questioning the value for money it will provide.

The Public Accounts Committee said the government had not proven that the proposed rail link between London and the North was worth its £50bn price tag.

Chair Margaret Hodge said: “The Department for Transport has yet to present a convincing strategic case for High Speed 2.

“It has not yet demonstrated that this is the best way to spend £50bn on rail investment in these constrained times, and that the improved connectivity will promote growth in the regions rather than sucking even more activity into London.

“The pattern so far has been for costs to spiral – from more than £16bn to £21bn-plus for phase one – and the estimated benefits to dwindle.”

The Committee urged the government to publish detailed evidence of why HS2 is the best way of achieving its aims.


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