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NCE Live News Updates Wednesday 19 March: Budget day live

Support for HS2, Mersey Gateway Bridge and repair of flood defences and potholes.

Budget highlights:

  • £200M for pothole repairs
  • £140M for flood defence maintenance
  • Up to £200M for infrastructure to kickstart Ebbsfleet Garden City
  • Guarantee for Mersey Gateway Bridge; construction could start within weeks
  • Pledge to take HS2 to the North sooner
  • Carbon price support cap
  • See the reaction - and follow the speech as it happened - below


5pm: Work on the £600M Mersey Gateway bridge could be underway within weeks following the chancellor’s announcement of a UK Guarantee for the scheme in today’s Budget.

George Osborne approved a guarantee for up to £270M of debt finance for the planned Runcorn-to-Widnes toll bridge.

A spokesperson for client Halton Borough Council said: “The government is now guaranteeing around 50% of the senior debt required to finance the project, with the remainder being provided by the project finance market.

“This decision clears the way for financial close, when contracts will be awarded and all finance committed, and we expect to achieve this in the very near future.”

It added: “Preparations are taking place to allow construction work to commence in the coming weeks.”

This all means that the Spanish-led Merseylink Consortium could be the big winners from the Budget after being named as preferred bidder for the Mersey Gateway crossing back in June 2013.


4pm: Up to £200M will be spent on infrastructure to create a new ‘garden city’ in Kent, the Budget documents reveal.

The full report that accompanied chancellor George Osborne’s speech said the new town would be created on brownfield land at Ebbsfleet.

“The government will form a dedicated Urban Development Corporation for the area, in consultation with local MPs, councils and residents, to drive forward the creation of Ebbsfleet Garden City, and will make up to £200M of infrastructure funding available to kick start development,” said the report.

It will be the first new garden city since Welwyn Garden City was created in Hertfordshire almost a century ago.

And more could follow - the government has committed to publishing a prospectus by Easter to show how councils could develop their own proposals for garden cities.


3.30pm: The Institution of Civil Engineers has bemoaned today’s Budget as a “missed opportunity”.

The body had urged chancellor George Osborne to return capital and maintenance investment in flood risk management to pre-2010 levels in real terms (see 10am).

Instead there was just £140M fresh cash for flood defence repairs – and a further £200M for patching up potholes.

ICE director general Nick Baveystock welcomed that spending but added: “We are disappointed that the government missed the opportunity to provide the longer term certainty needed to improve our flood resilience by committing to an investment programme for flood risk management which protects funding beyond the current five-year cycle. 

“It is vital that the government now works closely with local lead flood authorities to target flood spending where it is needed most – and we urge the government to develop its long term plans swiftly.”


3.15pm: It’s a glass-half-full response to the Budget from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca).

Chancellor George Osborne earlier outlined his support for getting HS2 to the North quicker; approved a guarantee for the Mersey Gateway Bridge; and announced funding for flood defence and road repairs.

Although many in the industry were hoping for more weighty help from the Budget, a Ceca spokesman said the trade body welcomed “any new investment” in the infrastructure sector.

“Our research shows that infrastructure investment boosts GDP by £1.30 per every £1 invested, and that for every 1,000 jobs that are created in infrastructure construction, employment as a whole rises by more than 3,000 jobs,” said the spokesman.

“It is heartening to hear the chancellor make announcements that will not only benefit the sector as a whole, but boost growth in England’s regions, helping to rebalance the economy and secure the recovery.”


3pm: Engineering consultancy Atkins has called for construction funding promised in the Budget to be released quickly.

David Tonkin, the company’s chief executive for UK and Europe, backed support for HS2 and Mersey Gateway Bridge.

But he added: “It is vital that the funding is released quickly and that planning processes do not unnecessarily slow down the delivery of these projects, so the economic and social benefits they will bring can be realised as soon as possible.

“It is also important that we continue to invest in skills, widening career options and providing alternative routes into work, through apprenticeships, graduate schemes and work placements.

“If we fail to create a new generation of new scientists and engineers, we will have to deal with the consequences of solving future challenges such as urbanisation, climate change and energy generation without enough qualified people.”


2.30pm: The reaction to George Osborne’s Budget is rolling in now.

Steve Bromhead, UK head of infrastructure at EC Harris, has described it as a “damp squib” and picked apart the main announcements.

“Today, Osborne spoke around energy investment again but with no detail on how or when this will occur,” Bromhead said. “Without an integrated plan or strategy how are we are going to avert the long-term energy crisis the UK is facing? 

“In response to flooding investment, while that investment is welcome, it only deals with short-term recovery, and we are surprised that there has been no reference to long-term flood prevention.

He added: “Plans to make £200M available for bidding to local authorities to improve highways is positive, as long as it is quick, speedy and simple. With over 350 Local Authorities in the UK, how is £200M going to reach the areas that really need it? Prioritisation of investment linked to the real benefit to the local economy is the challenge faced by the local authorities going forward.

“As the UK economy starts to grow, we cannot continue to delay investment into our ageing infrastructure. Investment needs to be turned into action and the government needs to accelerate to ensure it can deliver on its promises.”  


12.30pm: BUDGET LIVE. George Osborne is on his feet to a cacophony of cheers and jeers to deliver his Budget.

“I can report today that the economy is continuing to recover – and recovering faster than forecast,” the chancellor says at the beginning.

The pace of job creation under the coalition has been three times faster than any other recovery on record, says Osborne.

The deficit has fallen from 11% to 6.6% under this government, he claims, and will be wiped out by 2019, he claims.

Don’t get too light headed though: “There will have to be more hard decisions, more cuts.”

“In this Budget taxes are down, but so is spending.”

There is the first mention of storm defence schemes, but unfortunately for engineers it is of the metaphorical type.

“We will fix the roof while the sun is shining to protect Britain from future storms,” says Osborne. He means cutting the deficit and reducing borrowing - not the kind of engineering solutions that have been urged to protect against climate change.

Now he is talking about promoting financial services around the world. What about engineers?

There is £20M for repairs to cathedrals ahead of services to remember the First World War.

Lots of talk about support for housebuilding now, including extending the Help to Buy for the rest of this decade.

“Taken all together, the housing policies I announce today will support over 200,000 new homes for families,” says Osborne.

Some infrastructure announcements at last, with vaguely defined support for HS2 chairman David Higgins’ plan to take the rapid rail link to the North sooner.

Also approval of a £270M guarantee for the Mersey Gateway Bridge.

Here’s a cursory nod to flood management: there will be £140m available “on top of that already provided, for immediate repairs and maintenance to damaged flood defences”. I’m not sure that will satisfy the ICE (see 10am).

Finally on our sector, £200M available for pothole repairs. There seems to be a never ending drip of pothole announcements. Must be a good vote winner but will it touch the sides of the holes in our roads?

All in all a very brief run through the major bases of the infrastructure sector - nothing really catching the eye.

Osborne is on to manufacturing now.

A big drive to cut energy bills.

“I am capping the carbon price support rate at £18 per tonne of CO2 from 2016-17 for the rest of the decade,” says Osborne.

It’s all about taxes and savings now, think that is it for spending plans.

On the up side, bingo duty is down, which could come in handy if any engineers are so disillusioned by the Budget they fancy early retirement.


11.30am: A high-level taskforce has been created to examine the possibility of re-routing the Great Western Main Line.

Network Rail has convened a group including the Department for Transport, the Environment Agency, councils and train operating companies.

This taskforce will steer a review of three long-term options for making the coastal section of the route more resilient – protecting the existing route; building a second line; and re-routing the main line.

Network Rail strategy and planning director Paul Harwood said: “The catastrophic destruction of the Dawlish sea wall by the storm in February has made clear the need to re-think the long-term strategy around changing climate and extreme weather.

“We need to review what viable alternatives exist – otherwise there will be severe implications for local and national economies, mobility and connectivity across the region and the wider UK.”

NCE reported last month on some leading suggestions for re-routing the line away from the coast.


11am: Work is to be carried out off the coast of Scotland to support development of wave and tidal energy.

The European Marine Energy Centre and Hampshire-based Engineering Technology Applications will carry out a review of data to assess the reliability of subsea cables.

The project will focus on those cables installed in the harsh wave and tidal conditions at EMEC’s test sites both on the west coast of Orkney and near the northern island of Eday.

EMEC research co-ordinator Matthew Finn said: “This project demonstrates that the learning attained at our real sea test sites extends beyond that acquired by the marine energy developers.

“Being the first centre of our kind, we have had to learn a lot over the years, and there is still more to be understood, much of which is transferrable to the development of commercial sites.”


10.30am: Chancellor George Osborne has been urged to provide a meaningful promise on infrastructure spending in today’s Budget.

Michael Conroy Harris, construction expert at global law firm Eversheds, said previous announcements had been short of solid action.

“It looks as though there will be a measure of funding for infrastructure,” he said.

“The industry will be hoping for some rock solid commitment on infrastructure rather than a repackaging of what has been trailed so extensively already and not yet notably come into view.”


10.15am: Advice on attracting girls into engineering courses has been published for schools.

The booklet, University Technical Colleges - opening up new opportunities for girls, was released by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Women in Science and Technology created the publication, with support from Women’s Engineering Society and Women into Engineering and Technology.

RAE chief executive Philip Greenish said: “The UK needs many more people with skills in innovation, creativity and enterprise – skills that are fundamental to engineering and key to the UK’s competitive edge.

“UTCs are superbly positioned to reach out to young people from all backgrounds, male and female, and to bring to life the wonderful opportunities available from a career in engineering.”


10am: Good morning – and happy Budget day. George Osborne will outline the government’s taxation and spending plans this lunchtime.

The Institution of Civil Engineers has called for the chancellor to increase investment in flood defence spending.

It said capital and maintenance investment in flood risk management should return to pre-2010 levels in real terms.

Keep up to date on the Budget by returning to this page throughout the day.

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