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Norris: civils sector has rosy future

Transport for London board member Steven Norris opened the Civils 2008 exhibition at London’s Earls Court on Tuesday with a gloom-busting performance to reassure civils consultants and contractors that future workloads are secure. Watch the interview here.

"There is an enormous amount of civils works still happening in London, not least because we've got an absolute mountain of it in improving and renewing our railways," said Norris, citing the continued upgrade of the Tube, Thameslink, the East London Line, and "the big one", Crossrail.

"There is a lot going on and TfL will be supervising about the most exciting civils programme in Europe," he said.

Norris, a former minister of transport, added that he was more confident of Crossrail actually being delivered than at any time in the past. Instead, his chief concern was with the Tube upgrade, where he feared for Treasury cutbacks in the upgrade formally the responsibility of failed contractor Metronet.

"Our only concern is if Treasury tries to limit money we can spend - as they almost certainly will – which would slow down the pace of change as would have seen under the PPP, he said.

Metronet is soon to become wholly part of TfL, where it will operate similarly to Network Rail, said Norris.

"London Underground Limited (LUL) / TfL defines the scope of works and sets out programme of works for next seven years and then that body [LUL/TfL] will deliver it through its own resources or by contracting out on an individual contract basis."

Where work is contracted out, Norris said the industry simply has to deliver to prevent Treasury cuts becoming a reality.

"The industry has got to get rid of its appalling reputation of not being able to deliver on time and on budget.

"There have been great successes – High Speed 1 and various private works. The big challenge is to do this in the public sector."

Norris was talking a week after London Mayor Boris Johnson courted controversy by axing several high profile schemes from his plans and told consultants it is a "dishonest to take money for developing schemes that cannot be built".

Norris insisted he was firmly behind the decision: "Boris has been absolutely right to be honest on the future of some of the schemes being talked about under the old regime.

"On the Thames Gateway Bridge we simply agreed with planning inspector on the environmental case and also questioned the economic case.

"The idea of an Oxford Street tram is frankly not viable – it was pencilled it at £500M, and that’s £500M which we simply don’t have and don’t want to spend.

"On the Cross River Tram I have every sympathy, but what Boris saying is right. Now, where there is no prospect of having the £1.3bn needed, it is not only dishonest to have consultants running around designing pieces of it, but it is also very poor value for money.

"Boris is being honest and up front and has picked out the right schemes to take out of the programme and as a result we have a much clearer idea of what we will be focusing on," he said.

Norris also said the new regime at TfL will be placing a much higher emphasis on the needs of the car commuter.

"Under the old regime there was absolutely no recognition that any form of normal wheeled transport had any value unless it was painted red. It was literally Tubes and buses, where buses were King Queen and everything else, and other traffic could go hang.

"Right now in TfL there is nobody who’s job it is to make the traffic flow and we intend to rehabilitate that and embed it into the organisation."

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