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HS2 is changing Britain, but construction sector still needs strategic thinking – Higgins

HS2 is helping British industry grow, but it needs to innovate to succeed, the company’s chair said as he launched a new report.

Speaking at the Northern Powerhouse International Conference, attended by RTM, Sir David Higgins said that the report, ‘HS2: Changing Britain’, shows that anticipation of the new line is leading to greater investment and transport improvements in the north west, east and West Midlands and Yorkshire.

But he warned that HS2 needed to avoid the mistakes of the UK industry in the past, including a history of stop/go which prevented firms from investing in skills, innovation and technology, leading to multiple overhead costs and a lack of co-ordination between design and construction.

The former Network Rail chief executive said: “As a twenty year project we have no excuse not to become more streamlined in our approach and not to innovate.

“To put it at its simplest, why should building a tunnel or an embankment cost more in this country than elsewhere? That is the challenge we are putting in front of the industry.”

While he recognised that central government, private firms and local authorities are already thinking more strategically about infrastructure, Sir David said the construction industry still needs to catch up and make “huge efficiencies”.

“The industry can, rightly, say that the country has got the infrastructure industry it deserves because of the lack of consistent investment in the past,” he said. “Stop/go has led to a lack of a consistent, long-term pipeline of work against which to invest.”

But HS2 will be a departure from that, the chair noted, with two decades’ worth of investment providing a “fantastic opportunity to skill our industry and supply chain”.

Underlining other mistakes from the past, including fragmentation and a lack of co-ordination between design and construction, Sir David said HS2 would adopt a new approach.

In practice, he said, this means having early contractor involvement to drive necessary efficiencies; enabling contracts to clear routes ahead of main civils work; incentivising companies to out-perform; and adopting new techniques, such as linear construction, which uses the newly-built route as a supply chain access.

These changes would also guarantee that HS2 can evolve as it goes, with phase ‘2a’ works taking lessons learnt from phase 1, and then into phase ‘2b’.

“In the past two years since I launched my first report in Manchester, political leaders at Westminster and in local government, as well as those who serve them, have seized that opportunity to provide the kind of visionary and consistent leadership the infrastructure industry has always craved,” Sir David continued.

“Now it is time for us to repay that commitment by showing Britain that we can deliver in a cost effective and sustainable way – a way that will allow the next generation in Britain to fulfil their full potential, no matter where they are born and choose to work.”

Also speaking at the conference yesterday, HS2’s development director for phase 2, Paul Griffiths, said the mammoth project is both about fixing some of the capacity and rolling stock issues that exist in the north, but “also about putting in new infrastructure, thus freeing up paths” and alleviating congestion.

Questioned by the audience as to why HS2 Ltd can’t start building the link from the north instead of from the capital, he said powers for phase 1 are “already well underway”, arguing the north can “benefit from them anyway” so it shouldn’t be delayed any further.


Michael Wand   26/02/2016 at 23:39

These maps in Time Out show the sheer size of the London economy relative to the Midlands and North: So, how will a speed-first line from this super-magnet help grow a powerhouse among the North’s scatter of small cities? Instead, rather as Paul Griffiths was asked, doesn't the North need new east-west fast-connections to help create an economic ‘agglomeration’ like (if much smaller than) London’s - ideally, built before HS2? See: http://www.infrastructure-inte...

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