Future Cities Forum's 'The making of the modern city' report (part 1)

Above: opening panel discussion with (from right) Stephen Dance of the IPA, Alister Kratt of LDA Design, Declan McCafferty of Grimshaw, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, Dr Neil Strong of Network Rail and Howard Bassford of DLA Piper

Future Cities Forum held its 'Making of the Modern City' forum at the offices of international law firm, DLA Piper, in the City of London last week, ahead of the UK government's Autumn Statement, where widespread cuts to infrastructure budgets had been anticipated.

DLA Piper's Projects, Energy and Infrastructure team has a track record of delivering services in all segments of the infrastructure and energy industries, advising on energy law, infrastructure finance, and transport matters, with an understanding of the commercial, strategic, technical, geographical and political factors that shape and impact these industries.

The discussions looked at the future for UK infrastructure during economically challenging times, investment in health and R&D infrastructure and joined up transport and housing in towns and cities.

Co-founder Heather Fearfield opened the event by noting the plea by Sir John Armitt of the National Infrastructure Commission (through a BBC interview) to the UK government, to stick to its plans on infrastructure projects, especially to avoid cutting back on HS2. The UK Government has confirmed that much of infrastructure spending has been under review. Infrastructure projects are seen as an economic driver in the UK, but have also been viewed as Sir John suggested, as the easiest 'big ticket' item on which to delay. Ahead of the Autumn Statement, former cabinet minister Esther McVey said she would not support higher taxes while money was still being spent on what she called the 'unnecessary vanity project' of HS2.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt did recognise the role that infrastructure development in ensuring sustainability, in his Autumn Statement, while confirming the commitment to Sizewell C and delivering HS2 to Manchester. The development of East West Rail was also assured as were the Core Northern Powerhouse rail links in the Integrated Rail Plan. Some see the freezing of capital budgets from 2025, instead of increasing them in line with inflation, as effectively a cut.

Above: DLA Piper Partner, Martin Nelson-Jones, welcoming guests to Future Cities Forum's infrastructure and development event at 160 Aldersgate Street, City of London

DLA Piper's Lead Partner for Infrastructure, Martin Nelson-Jones welcomed all contributors and guests to the forum and agreed it is a fascinating time to be holding these discussions and that the themes of the forum event, have to be central to UK and other governments' plans around the world:

'Certainly, these projects are being discussed in the markets that we operate in and reflected in our transactions, such as HS2, renewables, nuclear, or social and digital infrastructure and they are critical to cities of the present and the future.'

Above: Stephen Dance of the Infrastructure & Projects Authority speaking at Future Cities Forum

Stephen Dance, Head of the Commercial Advisor Team at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority was then invited to give an opening address, comment on the forthcoming Autumn Statement and give a view on the future for infrastructure over the next two years:

'With the announcements expected in the Autumn Statement, we shouldn't be looking for announcements around massive of cancellations of infrastructure projects or indeed new projects being supported. We are in a difficult financial situation in the UK, but most of the big infrastructure projects have been going on for a long time, so it would be crazy that all these projects would be put in the trash can. I agree with Sir John that cancelling infrastructure projects would be anti-growth.

'What there will be in terms of infrastructure over the next few years, is a bit of a focus on timing and delivery, not just to control spend but make sure we are delivering efficiently. There has been a gap in thinking around the role of private capital, I don't mean finance, but capital. So for instance, around HS2 we need to make sure that we are delivering the railway on time and budget.

'To date the thinking around delivering the benefits of large-scale infrastructure projects has been a bit too dispersed with BEIS and DEFRA, so one of the challenges is how we brigade to focus on private capital. HS2 has had around £45 million investment of which £30 million plus has been from private capital. How we work with that private capital is critical but so too is pricing mechanisms. We need to listen carefully about what the ask is from private capital to government and the reaction to delivering economic growth from private capital.'

Future Cities Forum's Co-founder Heather Fearfield then asked Stephen to join the first panel discussion of the big infrastructure projects underway in the UK, namely the new HS2 station at Euston and Sizewell C nuclear plant. She asked Stephen how the IPA would drill down to creating the right environment for private capital:

'Well we have had tricky moments in government leadership with a lack of certainty which way we want to go. Are particular projects such as Sizewell C on or off? What is the pricing mechanism for carbon capture? The rhetoric has been been there but not the mechanisms.'

Heather noted that all the capital projects for Birmingham 2022 were delivered on time and within budget, but the IPA continues its emphasis on leadership training for delivery. Was this associated with speed of delivery and avoidance of accidents such that recently reported at Hinkley Point C?

Stephen confirmed that he saw no evidence that there is any rowing back on health and safety culture on large infrastructure projects, but Hinkley Point C was a private investment initiative.

ITV News West Country reported a week ago that a man in his 40's who was working as a contractor for Bylor, died following a 'crush injury' involving a piece of mobile plant machinery. The incident is the first fatality at the project, which was given the go-ahead by the UK government in 2016. It is expected to start generating power in June 2027.

Stephen was then asked how the hydrogen revenue support scheme is aimed at reducing investor risk? He replied:

'Unless you provide certainty - and the energy sector is littered with examples such as money offered for solar panels on housing and then retracted - that is not a good message. There needs to be a degree of certainty and of see-through. Private investors need this. The hydrogen scheme's details are good and is cemented in place, but may not survive.'

Above: CGI of proposed 300-metre-long concourse for the new HS2 station at Euston (Grimshaw)

While the HS2 line to Manchester was confirmed in the Autumn Statement, there has been concern over design changes to the HS2 Euston Station, any delays to delivery that this might have caused and an increase in costs. Declan McCafferty, Partner at Grimshaw, who has been working on the project, joined the discussion to clear up the confusion over which designs were now going forward, after some changes in thinking.

The New Civil Engineer reported in October that the Department for Transport (DfT) had revealed that 'significant elements' of the origintal design work on HS2's Euston station could no longer be used after the decision was taken for the station to be scaled back from 11 to 10 platforms. As a result, HS2 Ltd has had to discard large parts of the original design on which it had already spent £105.6 million, according to the DfT's latest six-monthly project update. The DfT has said that the new design for the station will be delivered quicker than previous plans, reducing costs to the taxpayer and disruption for local residents.

Grimshaw has described the project as globally significant:

'The project will set new benchmarks, transforming one of the world’s busiest transport centres into a new set piece for city, and destination for travellers, workers, residents, visitors and the local community. It is an opportunity to push the boundaries of design and architecture, public realm and place making.'

Declan commented;

'The project itself involves a large public space with development in and around and above the station and we have been working with Camden Council and local communities, to assess new ways that the station can be approached, identifying how local businesses can be brought into the design plan.

'We have been working with Lendlease which wants to create an innovation hub with all the expansion of opportunities that this will bring and also provide a space for arts and culture, with affordable artists studios.

'Grimshaw has been working on this project now for 11 years and on different schemes, but this one is going forward and we are gaining support from Camden Council, which does have some concerns but we are winning. Unlike any other HS2 stations, this one is coming into the community and relating strongly to the streets around it. We are working to create active streets and encourage walking.'