Major Infrastructure Projects

Last week's UK Transport Infrastructure Summit offered key delivery organisations the opportunity to communicate what they see as their priorities for major infrastructure projects within the UK.

David Fowler breaks down our first session below

"Transport is about long-term benefits, connecting people to enable growth and greater productivity," said HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston, opening the first session of last week's UK Transport Infrastructure Summit, on the theme of major transport infrastructure projects.

HS2 would be the most advanced rail infrastructure in the UK, he said, with 550km of new track connecting 10 major cities, with nine new or redeveloped stations.

HS2 would be integrated into the East Coast and West Coast main lines so HS2 trains will be able to run on the existing network to serve destinations in the north of England and Scotland, opening up access to the high speed network for around half the UK population and dramatically cutting journey times between north and south.

Services on many parts of the existing network were becoming unreliable and congested. Problems were particularly acute on the East Coast and West Coast main lines. Transport links between cities in the north of England constrained economic growth and connected regions in Europe were outperforming the UK. "HS2 will be a game changer for UK capacity," he said.

HS2 would be an important part of the solution to the imbalance towards the South East in the UK economy. It would give companies the opportunity to relocate to the North, making cost savings for example on office accommodation, "while remaining within easy reach of the capital".

HS2 itself had located most of its staff in the West Midlands and organisations such as HSBC and HMRC were also moving to the region.

"By shrinking the effective distance between main cities, HS2 will encourage companies to work together," he said.

HS2, he said, was influencing decisions even before it was built.

"We're already seeing the transformative effect, drawing investment to Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Crewe," he said. "It will be a catalyst for economic growth across the country."

Transport for the North chief executive Barry White focused on Northern Powerhouse Rail.

It would "bring the cities of the North together and give them that punching power that doesn't currently exist," he said.

Northern Powerhouse Rail would be an inter-urban network across the north of England. TfN's recent strategy set out its emerging thinking. "We want to build a new line from Liverpool to Manchester, linking in with HS2," he said; there would also be a new line from Manchester to Leeds via Bradford. Between Leeds and Sheffield, the plan is to use HS2 infrastructure "to the maximum". Existing lines from Sheffield to Manchester, Sheffield to Hull, Hull to Leeds, and Leeds to Newcastle would be upgraded.

Mr White said: "It will make it possible, for example, to live in Liverpool and work in Leeds," something which would currently be very difficult.

The travel time between Leeds and Bradford, currently 23 minutes to cover eight miles, will be reduced to around 8 minutes; the 40 minutes between Manchester and Bradford will become 20, with a 30-minute overall journey time between Manchester and Leeds.

"We aim to give people liquidity of employment," he said. As well as creating new opportunities for employees, employers would have access to a wider skills market.

There would be better access to Manchester Airport, important for not just the North but the whole of the UK. "The connectivity it will enjoy will make it a strategic airport for the whole UK."

TfN was working at speed on Northern Powerhouse Rail, and would publish a high-level plan by the end of the year. "It will be a critical part of rebalancing the UK economy," Mr White said.

Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye said that it had been 40 years since Heathrow expansion had first been discussed. But he said: "That doesn't mean it's never going to happen." Parliament is gearing up for a vote on the issue in the coming weeks.

40 years ago Heathrow still had plenty of spare capacity, he said. Ten years ago the call was for the airport to be "better, not bigger".

Heathrow had "changed the narrative", investing £11bn over the last 10 years in projects such as the new Terminal 2, and the airport had risen from a ranking of 143 for customer service to a position in the top ten. This had made it possible to make the case for expansion more effectively.

A few years ago, the added, the UK was the best connected country in the world. Now it was falling behind competitors, such as France. With three runways, Heathrow would have more capacity than any other airport in Europe, he said. Heathrow is the UK's biggest port for freight, and key cargo routes from Heathrow to China, India, the US, Japan and the Middle East could not accommodate further growth, he added.

Stressing that Heathrow is "a UK airport, not just for London and the South East" he added that new capacity would allow more direct domestic flights, to destinations such as Inverness, where tourism is vital to the economy.

For the local community, Heathrow provided work for one in four local households. It had developed a plan to tackle issues such as carbon, noise and emissions. It already had one of the largest fleets of electric vehicles in the UK and is converting its whole airside fleet to electric power – this will be the biggest electric fleet in Europe.

Heathrow has the opportunity to become a transport hub. Crossrail will link it to Canary Wharf in 30 minutes. Network Rail has launched a consultation on the Western Rail Link through the Thames Valley towards Wales, and last week the DfT launched a market testing exercise on a southern link to Waterloo.

If expansion goes ahead the project would make extensive use of off-site manufacture, and it planned to establish four logistics hubs around Britain for this purpose. "Heathrow will be an assembly site, not a construction site," he said.

"We're well placed finally after 40 years to make this happen," he concluded.