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.'
'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.'
Above: graphic from Grimshaw showing master-plan detail of HS2 Euston Station concourse (in colour) and relationship to surrounding streets and green spaces
'Working with Lendlease’s own commercial, residential and retail teams, as well as external parties including HS2, Network Rail, Transport for London (TfL), and London Borough of Camden, the vision for the 54 ha Euston master plan is to create a highly integrated, permeable and attractive, sustainable, vibrant and diverse new ‘Knowledge Capital’ mixed-use development within London’s Zone 1 Euston estate.
'It builds on the area’s rich technology, engineering and medical institutions to generate further economic growth, new homes, improve public realm, urban permeability and – crucially – a world-class transport interchange aiming to achieve new standards for sustainability, implement circular economies, catalyse new enterprise, employment growth and housing.
Grimshaw’s role is to inform the master plan strategically, develop the architectural and place-making approach as well as the integration with the new HS2 station and a redeveloped future conventional rail station, both of which are also being designed by Grimshaw.'
Above: Sizewell Nuclear Facility, Suffolk Coast (from LDA Design / EDF)
The importance of place - with the nationally important bird reserve nearby - at the nuclear energy plant in Sizewell in Suffolk cannot be underestimated. Alister Kratt, Head of Infrastructure at LDA Design and a Member of the National Infrastructure Commission Design Group, was asked at the forum to explain the approach to place-making on this major project for the UK's energy infrastructure.
'Sizewell has been my life for 10 years. The importance of place - from the earliest inception of the project when we were working on the masterplan alongside Grimshaw working on the main facility. The actual energy plant at 35 hectares is a subset of something much bigger which is 600 hectares in total. It has been an objective to plan for the legacy outcome and exec repair to the landscape. The EDF estate includes a couple of farms which had been irrigated to within an inch of their lives. The plan was very much to restore the landscape to a state where it can be described as 'common' grassland.
'The level of public engagement has been incredible. The project has not just been about the ability to deliver biodiversity net gain statistics but to deliver something worthy. Going back to culture and place, Sizewell is an AONB and is a precious place. There is a duty from the Secretary of State to deliver evidence that proportionate care and regard has been taken. One of our principal roles is to guardian that design throughout the life of Sizewell, and it's very important to show that during the enquiry.
'We are moving forward together in a guardianship role with Grimshaw to show that the scheme as delivered through all reserved matters that there is still that governance in all design matters.
Alister was asked whether his position on the National Infrastructure Commission Design Group gave him an opportunity to campaign for better design:
'The mandate of the group is to support the importance of design for infrastructure delivery, not just for IPA but also for private sector projects and globally. We curated design principles at the early stage of the Sizewell C project - with Grimshaw - to get early buy-in from stakeholders about rules of engagement around the importance of design. Then we were held to account, through the three to four consultation stages, on those principles so that we what did on the project was measurable. I think that Sizewell has set a very good benchmark, along with several other projects, on the application of design principles and the governance around setting and maintaining design standards for infrastructure that can last the life of a project.
'Design is not just about aesthetic outcomes. It is also about process, on the very important issue of stakeholder engagement. Infrastructure can be big and challenging. The iconic turbine hall building at Sizewell B, which was created before the AONB designation, is seen as very much a part of the Suffolk coastline. The challenge is now how can Sizewell C, which has different technology, still be viewed and adopted by the current generation as important. There has been lots of work done on how the structure is seen, and also that the reconstruction of the coastline is done in a way that is appropriate and resilient to climate change and appropriate to the setting. What does natural look like? When you place man-made interventions into a landscape what signals do they send in terms of care and attention to detail?'
Above: new homes bordering a railway - all the trees in the picture are owned by Network Rail (courtesy Network Rail)
Despite the Government's support of infrastructure projects such as HS2, there has been concern over the impact that these structures will have on the natural landscape. Network Rail has been developing a plan to 'give back' around existing rail lines through planting trees and other measures.
Network Rail joined forces with national conservation charity The Tree Council to plant more than 80,000 trees and hedgerows across the country in 2020, describing it as a four-year, £1m tree planting pledge.
Local planting schemes, funded by Network Rail and managed by The Tree Council, have been taking place in communities from the Wirral to Worcester, and in areas from ancient woodlands to city parks. The £1m pledge was announced to give local people the money, materials and guidance to plant and look after thousands of trees within their communities.
Network Rail says its Biodiversity Action Plan is about land by the railway that’s managed sustainably for safety, performance, the environment, customers and neighbours who live by the railway. It outlines its ambitions for biodiversity assets, and how it intends to protect, manage and enhance its condition over the current five-year Network Rail funding cycle and beyond. This, it says, will require it to develop new skills and competencies in ecology and vegetation management, and apply these to decision-making at all levels of its organisation.
It will also involve forming and maintaining partnerships with stakeholders and neighbours to maximise the benefits that a well-managed transport infrastructure can bring for biodiversity. It commits it to the key goal of no net loss in biodiversity on its lineside estate by 2024, moving to biodiversity net gain by 2035.
Dr Neil Strong, Strategy Manager for Biodiversity Planning at Network Rail spoke at the forum:
'The size of the Network Rail estate is 52 thousand hectares - which if crammed altogether, would equate to the size of the Isle of White and a half - and one third of people in the UK live within 500 meters of a rail line. So, we have a duty to manage that estate, with whatever trees are on it.
'Before the pandemic, there were 1.7 billion passenger journeys a year and we are getting back close to that figure now. Habitats have to exist with overhead power lines, and we don't always have the space. We can put in new habitats, and we don't want to change habitats on Grade 1 listed agricultural land.'
Neil was asked about the type of planting that Network Rail should be looking at with climate change in mind:
'We will continue to lose ash trees due to die back. However, we are planting a billion trees in Britain and working with the Tree Council and Forestry Commission, so that when passengers arrive at stations things look right.'
Howard Bassford, Partner at DLA Piper, listening to the debate, added to the discussion on the key elements to delivering infrastructure:
'This is about where we end up and there are key elements to delivering infrastructure. First, you need consensus and the signals from politicians are very mixed at the moment. When someone criticises the time and cost of building HS2 - is that helpful? We need commitment.
'We have a high tax, low investment economy and we need to be asking where it is safe for the public and private sectors to invest. Infrastructure goes well beyond HS2. There are vast amounts of investment worth billions of pounds to be spent on future water projects and a really big demand in the electricity area. There will soon be lots of pylons everywhere. So, we need a national conversation that makes it clear where investment needs to go. Organisations like Ofgem are quite good at saying where investment should happen, and we should be looking at that.
'What the Truss government did get right was talking about growth in investment. Infrastructure projects such as rail pays for schools and hospitals. Investment in infrastructure - that's how you achieve growth and that's how you win hearts and minds.
'The case of the growth of the OxCam Arc is a case in point where you need consensus. Young academics cannot afford to live in Oxford and Cambridge, and they will need new homes in settlements outside. One million new homes being built - all of that will change areas. You can say that the Arc isn't supported or just talk about this as an area that will experience growth. Clear signals from government around investment are important.'
TfL's Head of Planning Projects, Matthew Yates asked a question following the discussion. He wanted to know - considering that there are many deprived communities in London - where the Government is going with Levelling Up?
Stephen Dance of the IPA replied:
'We should make more of the bits of the country that are not attracting investment and over time there will be greater effort creating a country that is not so dependent on London. There are lots of cities that have very poor places next to rich places and we should be providing equality of economic opportunity and that includes health and education. Levelling up poor boroughs in London should be equal to levelling up areas in Liverpool for example, for the good of the nation. We have flip flopped on levelling up because it is a political phrase, but for the moment the concept behind it has to endure.'
Eugene Sayers, Partner at architects Sheppard Robson, posed a question about the tension between the longevity of infrastructure projects and changing political administrations:
' The projects that we have discussed span a huge amount of time in delivery terms, longer than one political administration, - so with the need for consistency, follow through and consensus, how can we resolve the tensions of developing projects over 15 to 20 years, successfully across different governments?'
Alister Kratt of LDA Design responded:
'The benefits of an organisation like the National Infrastructure Commission include being 'cross party' so providing consistency in outlook is a core part of its role and this will continue. Not all infrastructure projects, however, are government-led in investment terms, and there are lots of private companies involved, for example, in offshore wind and solar. They are private corporations so with the Truss administration's 'solar but not in my back yard' comment there was a rumble, but the majority say stay calm and carry on, as they will be a different government in future.
'It really depends on the market. In the private sector, there is a courage of conviction which is apolitical. These companies see the commercial opportunity, as Howard remarked on, but also an imperative that they are plugging into. Most are very genuine in their endeavours to see a project through - certainly the ones that we are aligned with. Leaving aside the politics of uncertainty, which is a big issue, one more thing is the importance of national planning statements (NPS) and policy certainty, and many of these need to be updated (as Lord Armitt of the NIC has made clear). If the National Infrastructure Strategy and the NPS's can be aligned, then we will have some really strong policy certainty which would allow people to make decisions.'
Future Cities Forum will be publishing the content from the following two panel discussions at the event in its next newsletter. These were on life sciences infrastructure and joined-up planning for transport hubs, offices and place.