On 24 March 2015 Copper’s Sam Cranston attended London First’s second annual infrastructure summit. Here he reflects on the key points that he took away from the day.
In a gathering of the great and good of the infrastructure world, from the Deputy Mayors of London to the global heads of major infrastructure developers, this conference was the first that I have attended in my short career where I left feeling optimistic. There is a clear and shared vision about the need for future development across the Capital and the feeling that we may be getting close to a similar vision for the rest of the UK too.
As a keynote speaker, the Deputy Mayor for Transport at the Greater London Authority (GLA), Isabel Dedring set the tone for the summit. She made a commitment to a clear programme of action using the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 as the catalyst to achieve the short, medium and long term infrastructure that London needs.
Housing, transport and jobsare the three main issues for Londoners, today. Jim Ward of Savills said that London’s economic success is currently blighted by its housing situation – both the low number of new builds, which is well below the annual target, and the staggeringly high costs of properties in London. The message from the GLA was that there will be joined-up thinking to effectively plan where transport links and housing are needed most. This includes the proposals for extending the Bakerloo line further into south east London; extending the Northern line from Oval to Battersea and Nine Elms; redeveloping the huge area of Old Oak Common, and many more. The overarching message from City Hall was ”we get it” with regard to delivering infrastructure. And that is cause for optimism.
The key with any plan, however, is making it happen. As we know, action speaks louder than words and getting the support and mechanisms in place to do it will be no easy task. Isabel Dedring, along with colleagues from the planning sector, argued that the delivery model needs to shift to ensure infrastructure can be delivered ahead of, and not as a result of, growth. As pointed out by Chris Choa from AECOM, London may be a leading global city but it cannot rest on its laurels. History shows us that the world’s biggest cities can, and have, failed. Successful cities must continually undergo physical renewal and the London Plan gives a blueprint for that renewal.
But the big hole in the London Plan is the omission of a hub airport. Representatives from City Hall understandably upheld the Mayor’s vision for a Thames Estuary hub, but the predominant feeling that I got from the speakers, and from others around the conference hall, was that whatever the decision of the Davies Commission, the government of the day must crack on with implementing the recommended option. As Lord Adonis put it “there isn’t any longer grass that the airport decision can be kicked into”.
Political uncertainty and instability are the biggest turnoff for investors, according to Nicholas Bliss of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. They want clarity, stability and consensus from politicians and leaders about infrastructure plans, especially as the majority of decisions on major projects are likely to span multiple parliaments, and potentially multiple governments. It was positive to see in the hustings debate between Lord Adonis (Labour) and Steve Norris (Conservative) that they both have a shared vision that infrastructure development needs to happen in London and throughout the UK, and that decisions on projects cannot keep being delayed for political reasons. Clear action must be taken.
The big four
A panel of major project experts discussed four of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects currently in planning, development, and construction. Terry Morgan CBE, Chair of Crossrail, gave an overview of his project. It is on time and within the funding envelope. He spoke about the fantastic work Crossrail has done to take on over 400 apprentices across the project through its Tunnelling Academy. Sir Neville Simms of Thames Tideway Tunnel picked up from Terry to describe how they will build on the great apprenticeship work that Crossrail has delivered. He spoke about how the project was not just about building a large sewage system, it was about reconnecting Londoners with its greatest resource, the River Thames. Duncan Sutherland gave an update on where HS2 is currently in terms of the planning process before Michèlle Dix CBE presented the vision for Crossrail 2 and the route consultation taking place this autumn.
A common thread running through all of these projects was the need to carry out open and honest engagement with the community, something that Crossrail and its contractors (including Copper) has done extensively throughout the full project life cycle. This needs to continue and, as Des Bourne of Skanska noted, the most successful projects occur when the community is fully engaged in the process. Something I could not agree with more.
The final theme to emerge from the summit was growing support for further devolution from Whitehall to City Hall. The GLA strongly believes, and many others agree, that London needs to be able to, at least, take control of its tax receipts – a notion that Tony Travers of the London School of Economics was also arguing for. He felt that London could definitely benefit if theMayor (or any future Mayor) was to have a seat in the House of Commons, or even around the Cabinet table. Something we might witness in May if Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron get their way.
I came away with a positive sense for the future for infrastructure and in London in particular. The key players are all moving in the right direction – but Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning, Sir Edward Lister (GLA), had a note of caution. He stressed how important it is to not put decisions off and that we must “get moving and build”. London First’s John Dickie, who chaired the summit, laid down a challenge to delegates to continue to speak with one voice to the next Government (whatever it looks like) about the need for London and the UK to continue its infrastructure development programme. With the General Election just weeks away, and the Davies Commission to report back shortly after, it is set to be a very interesting, and potentially historic, 2015.