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Roads minister: I worry about capacity to deliver projects

Roads minister Andrew Jones fears that the ambitious highways construction programme could be hit by the same crisis as the troubled rail investment plan.

Jones told delegates at NCE’s UK Roads 2015 conference in London last week that the road building sector had to grow by a third to cope with Highways England’s spending programme.

The government last month had to step in and suspend suspend some major rail electrification work amid concerns that Network Rail was failing to deliver projects in its £38.5bn five year plan on time and on budget.

Jones is in charge of ensuring Highways England can effectively manage its own £15bn programme - but admits to being worried.

“My concern is about delivery,” he told the conference.

“The [rail] announcement 10 days ago [was because] delivery has faltered.

“It is about having the capacity to deliver. And it is what worries me most about the roads [investment]. I want Highways England ready to run with schemes worth £3bn a year.”

Jones said sudden growth in the road building supply chain would have to coincide with surges in rail, nuclear power and flood defence work.

“All these projects have entered the competition for ambitious recruits,” he said. “The government’s commitment to create 3M apprenticeships will help. But we need the industry to get behind the plan, too.

“So when the road consultations have finished and the work goes out to tender, we will ask - do bidders have access to the skills to get the job done?”

Jones warned that foreign firms would be used for British roads projects where necessary.

“It might be necessary - but it would be a failure of the British construction industry to have to do that,” he said.

The minister told construction chiefs at the conference: “We will work with you and support you. But now it is down to you - the professionals and experts, the leaders of your companies - to get the work done.”

Roads contractors are under increased pressure to delivery efficiently since Highways England was established earlier this year.

The £292M contract to widen a section of the A14 in Cambridgeshire is currently being re-tendered because Highways England was unsatisfied with the quality of bids it received (NCE 11 May)




Readers' comments (2)

  • Barry Walton

    “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” said G.K. Chesterton and the Minister should head up the crowd that gets on with building the roads that we need and currently do not have. When I was working on the Orange Fish tunnel lining in South Africa the contractor achieved around 60 metres length of lining in the first week of concreting on my section. We were staring at an age to complete the works and perhaps even an impossible task. However as he optimised the processes, lining speed reached 600 m/week and 7.5 Km section was done in around 120 days. SO, get on with it.

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  • They are quite right to be worried, having started 40 years ago with W & C French who built motorways we have lost the competencies and skill sets once taken for granted. Simple things have become unnecessarily complicated (buildability is often spoken of but rarely delivered) overseen by inexperienced designers and clients where failure and mismanagement becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. Today there too many people with too little experience and too little authority or responsibility aided and abetted by the UK Contractor procurement process that has created many small sub contractors who have neither the resources or experience to participate in major projects. We can do Crossrail but will always struggle on small less than GBP 100m regional projects.

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