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What's the forecast?

Analysis - That 2007 is set to be a big year would be a major understatement. At the very least, Britain will get a new Prime Minister. But there is much, much more afoot than that. NCE gives you a sneak preview.

That the year 2007 will be one long remembered is not in doubt.

The killer question is what will it be remembered for? Will it bet the year that Prime Minister Tony Blair finally hands over the baton to Gordon Brown? Or will it be the year that Britain re-entered the world of nuclear power?

Will it be the year the nation rebelled against the crippling cost of staging an Olympic Games - before a sod was turned? Or will it be the year that water shortages finally come home to roost with standpipes in the streets? Or will it be the year that Crossrail finally gets Royal Assent only to be kyboshed by rampant budget cuts emerging from the Comprehensive Spending Review?

All eyes will certainly be on May, when it is widely expected that Prime Minister Tony Blair will stand down, handing over to chancellor Gordon Brown.

Before he goes it is virtually certain that Blair will herald in a new era of nuclear power, with the Energy White Paper set for publication in March.

He may even set the ball rmly rolling for nationwide road user charging, with a strategy for implementation by 2016 also expected in March.

That is assuming he survives the fallout in February when the real cost of building London's Olympics is confirmed in the 2012 corporate plan.

All that is a precursor to the main event, however. It seems certain that Brown's first big announcement as Prime Minister - and perhaps his first big challenge - will come in July with the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).

The CSR is the first major review of government spending since 1998 and there is no two ways about it, the omens are not good for civil engineering.

Forecasters may be predicting a 5% increase in workload next year and a further 8% in 2008, but this won't continue of you look at Brown's gures.

Overall departmental spending is expected to grow by only 1.9% a year in real terms over the three years from 2008 - down sharply from the 3.3% annual average rate since Labour took power in 1997.

And how can the Department for Transport or Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs argue for more cash for roads, railways or flood defence when routine operations across the country are being cancelled and nurses are being offered below ination pay rises because the NHS has run out of money, the Royal Navy is being forced to cut its eet by half and Servicemen and women are living in decaying accommodation? What's going to lose most votes - a scrapped bypass or a nationwide nursing strike?

It would be the most bitter irony if Crossrail nally jumped all its planning hurdles only for there to be no cash in the bank. And there are many other schemes also waiting on the CSR, not least Thameslink 2000 and the revamp of Birmingham New Street station. A new 10year funding plan for transport is expected to emerge with the CSR, along with a specific plan for Network Rail in the form of a High Level Output Specication.

On the airport front, Heathrow will be consulting on a third runway and Stansted will submit its planning application for a second one.

In the water industry, last week the Met Office confirmed the industry's worst fear - that the long term forecast indicates that 2007 will be the hottest year on record. Having barely scraped through 2006 with a drought order here and there, this year could be the one that really hits, with much of south east England reduced to collecting water from standpipes in the street.

Everyone is concerned about the potential impact of a third dry winter on water supplies.

Water regulator Ian Pearson has asked the Environment Agency and the industry to produce a revised National Water Strategy.

Decisions are also expected on Thames Water's proposed desalination plant and wastewater tunnel under the Thames.

In local government the event of the year will be the final report from Sir Michael Lyons' Inquiry, which is expected to recommend changes to the funding system for local authorities in England. It is likely to propose that more power be devolved, with bigger cities following London and taking on elected mayors.

Lyons' report was due at the end of last year, but the inquiry was extended to consider the implications on local government of the Barker review of planning, the Eddington review of transport and the Leitch review of skills. Perhaps the biggest impact made by these reports comes from Barker, who recommends stripping local authorities of planning powers for major infrastructure projects of national strategic importance.

A consultation on the three reports closes next week, and responses will feed into a series of round table discussions planned for the end of January and early February. The final report is expected to be published around the same time as the budget, most probably in March.

The budget may also see Brown increase the Landll Tax Escalator, which currently raises landfill tax by £3/t each year. A significant rise could trigger an acceleration in the construction of waste treatment facilities as they become more economically viable to build.

And finally, to the Olympics.

This will be the year when London's Olympic Park takes shape. The London Development Agency (LDA) has the deadline of July to have acquired every inch of land, ready to pass over to the Olympic Delivery Authority's (ODA) remediation and demolition contractors Nuttall and Morrison.

More immediately, this month will see the launch of a design competition for the Velopark, a venue that will hold all cycling competitions during the 2012 games. February is likely to be the busiest month the ODA has seen so far as it releases a detailed budget in its corporate plan and also releases the detailed design for the Olympic stadium.

Other signicant milestones for the year will include the appointment of a permanent successor to chairman Jack Lemley, with Network Rail chief executive John Armitt one of the favourites. The design, build, finance and operate utilities package will get under way.

A series of design competitions will also be launched for bridges within the Park, which is crisscrossed with rivers.

So let's be positive. 2007. The year that the high speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link opened all the way to St Pancras, the year that Tube contractor Metronet assuaged its critics and the year that England opened the critically acclaimed new Wembley by thrashing Germany 5-0.

So let's make hay while we can.

Major projects to look out for

Delhi Airport extension starts

Kuala Lumpur Smart tunnel completes

CTRL Section Two opens

ELL extension track and electrical works start

Paris Boomerang bridge starts on site

Beijing Olympic stadium completes

Construction of new Lansdowne Road stadium starts

Halley VI Antarctic research station starts construction

Second bore of the DLR Woolwich and Arsenal extension gets under way this month

World's second longest reinforced concrete deck launch starts at Kincardine

Dehumidication of Forth Road Bridge cables to be installed

Construction of Singapore Marina Barrage starts

Self-anchored suspension bridge spans of Oakland Bay crossing to start

Rotterdam harbour extension starts

Snowdon cafe being rebuilt

Naples Metro being extended to airport

Caissons for Venice Barrage being installed

Grouting of the Dounreay shaft to be completed

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