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North west: Civils to lead recovery

The property market might be depressed, but the North West construction industry still has grounds for optimism as recession bites.

Over the past 15 years the North West has undergone a transformation. The once decaying centres of Liverpool and Manchester have been transformed, prompting a parallel cultural renaissance.

Manchester and Liverpool have pioneered a very North Western reinvention, rejuvenating the cities and turning old stereotypes on their heads – the area has retained its wry style while rebuilding its infrastructure. Excellent music, fashion and football teams have all been retained, maintaining and broadening the region’s distinctive personality. London? Don’t even go there. But things changed abruptly last year when the bottom fell out of the property market.

The property boom has been at the heart of the North West’s reinvention. and its collapse had  a major impact on the  regional economy. New property developments across the North West ground to halt and a variety of schemes have been mothballed or abandoned as funds dried up. The private sector is in hibernation as a result.

While the North West’s bulding bubble burst quickly, it is far from true to say that the party is over. Public works are in the pipeline to keep civil engineers busy

Worse, in Manchester a £2bn public transport investment was denied by referendum, stalling the extension of the popular Metrolink. In its recently published regional strategy, the North West Regional Development Agency (NWRDA) said: “The UK and Northwest economies are in recession. This is affecting the different parts of the region in varying ways… It is therefore the right time to think about the future drivers of the regional economy.” But while the North West’s building bubble burst quickly, it is far from true to say that the party is over.

Public works are in the pipeline to keep civil engineers in plenty of work for years to come. Statistics from construction market intelligence firm Glenigan show that the top 10 projects awarded in the past year are worth a £3.8bn int total. All are in the public works sector with the majority in power and transport.

The forward order book does look a little weaker than it has done for several years, with the exception of Manchester’s mammoth £575M 3A Metrolink extension, but the ever-elusive ‘green shoots’ are out there for those willing to look.

A quick look at the North West’s top clients shows that only a handful are in the private sector. And with the government’s economic stimulus package starting soon, the public sector can be expected to start feeding more money through to construction in the region.   

Future models of growth may rely less on consumerism and credit and be based on more efficient use of natural NWRDA regional strategy 

Meanwhile, urban regeneration schemes are ongoing across the region and there are still some pockets of strong economic activity in the private sector. A recent Will Alsop-designed development in Manchester, has even bucked the trend for city living and sold out. The BBC is still committed to moving an entire department to Salford. United Utilities is currently winding down from its AMP3 investment  programme, but will soon be winding up to AMP4.

Initial estimates suggest a spend of some £4bn in the period between 2010 and 2015 – certainly not a figure to be sniffed at.

Another major spender is the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site, which could also be a site for a new nuclear power station in the future. The £3bn Manchester waste PFI is also close to financial close, and once it is up and running, a host of new infrastructure will be built to make it work. This pioneering scheme will also be the first of its kind and a blueprint for the rest of the UK.

The NWRDA seems to have already learned some lessons from this recession: “Future models of growth may rely less on consumerism and credit and be based on more efficient use of natural resources,” says its development plan. “We also know that there will be increasing, and sometimes competing, land-use pressures on the countryside, urban fringe, open spaces and brownfield land.  All will be needed to deliver economic growth, infrastructure, housing, energy, adaptation to increased flood risk and climate change, recreation, less intensive farming, food and a valued landscape.” Which is the North West all over – getting a new perspective and doing things its own way.

North West 2009 facts & statistics


Value of  Department for Transport  work in the North West  region


Value of phase 3A of Manchesters Metrolink extension project


Value of the recently awarded Uskmouth Power station contract  

The information on this page is compiled by Glenigan, the UK’s leading supplier of construction market intelligence. Glenigan is currently tracking around 72,000 construction projects. For further information about how Glenigan’s online database and analysis will help your company win more profitable work call 0800 373 711 or email Visit   

North west: Civils to lead recovery

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