Jim Murphy, managing director of Infrastructure Services, takes a look at what 2017 has in store for the UK infrastructure sector.
The last 12 months have been extremely positive for UK infrastructure. Significant progress has been made on a host of key projects, from Round 3 Offshore Wind schemes in the North Sea, to work to upgrade the M60 and M1 to Smart Motorways.
On top of all this, a Government review has recently approved plans for the much-anticipated Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, a project that SOCOTEC has been involved in. The £1.3 billion energy scheme in South Wales could provide enough renewable energy to power more than 120,000 homes for 120 years.
But these are not the only examples of Government investment in the nation’s infrastructure. There are lots of exciting new projects across a range of sub-sectors that are due to be carried out in 2017. Here’s a look at just a few of the schemes we can expect to see throughout the course of the year:
Back in October 2016, the Government finally approved plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, providing much needed extra capacity for the aviation hub. This will pave the way for hundreds of thousands more passenger and cargo flights a year into and out of the capital.
Under the proposal, the additional runway will be joined by a sixth terminal built to the north-west of the existing facilities at a cost of £17.6 billion, with land set aside for hotels and commercial spaces to replace those demolished to make way for the new site. As well as work to remediate the newly cleared land, the project will require the construction of new roads to serve the terminal, and improvements to the local rail network to boost capacity. All of this will be vital to ensure the transport links in the area will be able to accommodate the anticipated increase in passenger numbers.
Despite being signed off by the Government, the project remains controversial among residents of nearby communities, due to the potential disruption and noise pollution. However, it is expected to bring economic benefits worth up to £61 billion, as well as creating up to 77,000 local jobs.
The project is on track to be voted on by parliament later this year, so we can expect further announcements in the coming months.
In 2016, we saw the publication of the results of the third public consultation on Crossrail 2. This is the latest rail upgrade scheme for the capital, following on from Crossrail 1, a new line improving connections between east and west London. Over the past 12 months, considerable progress has been made on the scheme - christened the Elizabeth Line in a ceremony last year. More than two thirds of the track has now been laid, and services are gradually being introduced, with the line due to be fully operational by 2020.
Unlike the Elizabeth Line, which has been designed to ease congestion within London, Crossrail 2 is aimed at improving links between the capital’s rail network and national rail routes in Surrey, Berkshire and Hertfordshire, to shorten commute times for passengers in South East England. When completed, the new route is expected to provide capacity for an additional 270,000 people to travel into London during peak periods, helping to relieve crowding and congestion on the capital’s busy transport network. It is also projected to support up to 200,000 new jobs across the UK, offering an extra boost for the nation’s economy.
The project is still in early stages, and the plans for the scheme are still being finalised based on feedback from the latest consultation on station locations and tunnelling. We can expect to hear more announcements regarding the scheme throughout 2017.
Additional rail renewal
Crossrail 2 is not the only rail project moving forward in 2017. Construction is well under way on the Ordsall Chord in Manchester, a 300-metre section of new track intended to create a link between all of the city’s main train stations for the first time. More than simply laying a new line, the project entails the construction of new bridges, the removal of disused arches and the restoration of Grade I listed structures, including some of the world’s oldest rail infrastructure.
Work is also continuing on improvements to the Great Western route linking the capital with the West Country. Contractors have already completed a new station at Reading and restored the train shed at London Paddington. 2017 will see them begin upgrades to the signalling system on the Valleys branches in South Wales, paving the way for the electrification of the lines in the near future.
In addition, the announcement at the end of last year by transport secretary, Chris Grayling, of a new route linking Oxford and Cambridge, may well have significant repercussions for rail operators and rail franchise arrangements in the future. Under a pilot scheme, the new line will not be developed by Network Rail, but by a new private entity, responsible for both the infrastructure and the operation of the train services.
This proposal is intended to improve service efficiency by devolving responsibility for the route and facilitating better coordination between the teams operating the train services and those taking care of the track. If it is successful and is rolled out across the rest of the country, it could have significant implications for rail operators and how they bid for franchises in the future. Before applying for tenders, not only would prospective operators have to have the capabilities to operate and maintain their rolling stock, they would have to make sure they have the competence to look after the track and signalling as well.
Following the completion of five major schemes, and construction of an additional 19 last year, Highways England set to continue delivering its £15 billion package of road upgrades across the country in 2017.
Work has recently started on a £1.5 billion scheme to improve a 34km stretch of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon to ease traffic congestion. Once finished, it is expected to cut up to 20 minutes off the predicted journey time. Contractors are also finalising work on the A1 Leeming to Barton upgrade, which is replacing the existing dual carriageway with a new three-lane motorway. The road will be opened to traffic later this year.
Other projects in the pipeline for 2017 include a new link between the A5 north of Dunstable and the M1 at junction 11a, as well as improvements to the A556 between Knutsford and Barton in Cheshire, to create a modern dual carriageway. All of these schemes are designed to ease traffic congestion and minimise journey times along key commuter routes.
Prospects are extremely positive for the infrastructure sector over the next 12 months and beyond. The number of projects already in the pipeline show that 2017 is off to a strong start, and there are many reasons to expect even more good news in the near future.
As many of the projects mentioned testify, the Government is already taking action on many of the pledges in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November last year to increase infrastructure spending over the coming years. For the destination and nature of the rest of the planned investment though, it will be interesting to see what additional project announcements are made over the course of the next 12 months.
To find out more about SOCOTEC's work on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project, why not read our case study?