Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

The price of speed Are companies offering 'hurry up' cash for projects shooting themselves in the foot, and how much influence should they be allowed?

Last week five wealthy companies and their landlord, Canary Wharf Limited, clubbed together to offer 'hurry up' cash to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to help speed up work on the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

The high profile group, which includes the Financial Services Authority, advertising group Ogilvy & Mather, the Reader's Digest Association, and banks Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse First Boston, wants to knock a month off the project to replace the ailing ventilation system for one of the key links between South London and the Docklands on the north bank of the Thames.

Work began on Monday, although engineers have to decide whether to speed up the programme using the extra private sector cash.

The offer of more money seems an admirable idea. By contributing to the 1.5M scheme, the companies are buying themselves a big dollop of positive publicity, as well as reducing the inconvenience facing their employees, visitors and the remainder of the tunnel's daily traffic of 20,000 cars during the two months the tunnel is due to be closed.

The Rotherhithe Tunnel is not the first example of wealthy businesses stepping in to speed up public sector transport projects in the capital. Last year the Corporation of London contributed about 3M to the refurbishment of Bank Underground station, speeding up the works and getting its logo incorporated in the station's finishings.

As the nation's transport infrastructure matures further, it seems likely that more big businesses will be tempted to have a hand in speeding up projects through 'one-off' contributions.

But are they shooting themselves in the foot in the long term, and how much influence should they be allowed through such offers?

Cynics could say that next time the Government wants to upgrade a piece of infrastructure serving areas tenanted by financial institutions, it will be able to do it on the cheap. If the work is programmed to take long enough, surely one or the other of them will stump up some cash?

Canary Wharf spokeswoman Sarah Marrington claims that this was not the case for the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

'This is part of our ongoing community relations programme and obviously it benefits people working at Canary Wharf. We consider everything like this on an individual basis,' she says.

But Institute of Directors business research executive Natasha Howard says it is not surprising that some businesses feel pressured. In a survey of 2,000 companies last month, 50% said that congestion posed a large or very large cost on their businesses.

'Local authorities are limited on what they can spend and we wouldn't argue that public spending should be increased dramatically. But they should consider the importance of businesses in their area and adopt a more flexible approach to transport works,' she says.

This view is shared by London First, a group of 300 businesses whose mission is to promote the capital. Transport director Irving Yass believes that big business does have a role to play in contributing to public transport, but says that the main onus should remain firmly with the Government.

'When it comes to things like road repairs and street works, the delay and cost to business ought to be taken into account when fixing the programme. On motorways there is a lane rental system which does this and it seems obvious that this should be extended to smaller roads,' he says.

Tower Hamlets council is, of course, grateful for the offer of cash. But project manager for the tunnel refurbishment Mathan Coomaarasuamy warns that businesses should not be allowed too much influence over programming.

'Whatever money anyone can offer to do the work faster, we have to consider the risks involved and work within the regulations with care for local residents,' he says.

It seems that business feels the Government could do more to calculate the true cost of delays caused by transport works. But in the meantime local authorities should exercise professional vigilance over big companies wanting to have it all their own way.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.