Major projects report 2019: the road ahead for government’s biggest building schemes

Written by Civil Service World on 19 September 2019 in Feature
Feature

All this week, CSW brings you a snapshot of progress on the Government Major Project Portfolio across four categories: military capability, ICT, infrastructure and construction, and transformation and service delivery. This section looks at some of Britain’s biggest building projects

Photos: PA

32 projects, £210bn whole life cost

1 Red | 8 Amber/Red | 18 Amber | 5 Amber/Green

The biggest GMPP classification by whole life cost, the infastructure category includes a number of major road and rail initiatives such as the London Crossrail project. The schemes have an average duration of 11 years, and, alongside the military capability category, infrastructure contributed to a year-on-year decrease in the number of red-rated projects across the whole GMPP. In 2018, the category had three red projects, but this fell to only one in 2019. Indeed, all of projects rated red in 2018 improved – the Department for Transport’s Intercity Express Programme and the Home Office’s much-delayed Emergency Services Network scheme (both from red to amber-red) and DfT’s project to deliver a permanent freight lorry area on the M20 motorway to replace Operation Stack in Kent (red to amber). However, the deterioration in the Crossrail project, which has seen the opening of the line delayed indefinitely, saw its rating fall from amber to red. Before 2018, it had only ever been rated amber-green.

Case studes

A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme | Department for Transport | Whole life cost £1.4bn

Rating: Amber/Green

The biggest road upgrade currently under way in the UK is the project to widen the A14. The main aim of the project is to beef up road connections between the East Anglian ports – which handle much of the UK’s freight trade with Continental Europe – and the West Midlands, where the nerve centre of the UK’s logistics network is located.

The road’s importance in the UK’s freight network is reflected in the fact that HGVs make up just over a quarter of journeys on the A14, compared to a national average of 10%.

This level of heavy goods traffic contributes to significant levels of congestion on the existing road, which is also the major transport artery between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

The upgrade to the A14 is also a planning condition for the go-ahead of the new town being developed at Northstowe in Cambridgeshire, which is one of England’s key growth areas.

The project, which first emerged in 1989, was shelved twice under New Labour before finally being green-lit under the coalition government.

The £1.5bn budget for the A14 upgrade was fixed in 2016 and work officially started in November that year.

The project is designed to upgrade 21 miles of the road by adding new lanes to existing carriageways in both directions.  It includes a new bypass to the south of Huntingdon, which the A14 currently runs through, and a new 750m long viaduct that will lift the road across the Great Ouse river and East Coast rail line.

The first stretch of the upgraded road has been open for about six months.

Mike Evans, a senior project manager at the Highways Agency, tells CSW the aim is for the bypass to open toward the end of the year.

The official target is for the upgraded road to be fully open to traffic by the end of 2020, although the agency is hoping to have completed it by next summer.

Highways England has also applied to DfT for permission for the A14 to be classified as a motorway once the upgrade work is complete.

The IPA rated the project as amber/green in its latest report. This marked an improvement on the previous year when it received an amber rating, with the department saying that “good progress is being made which supports a high level of confidence the scheme will be delivered on time”.

A key lesson from the project has been the advantages of bringing together the contractors working on different stages of the upgrade into a single integrated delivery team.

This has generated considerable spin-off efficiency benefits, Evans says: “We’ve been able to move plant and machinery around to suit the circumstances of the programme.” David Blackman

5G testbeds and trials | Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport | Whole life cost £217m

Rating: Amber/Red

Announced by then-chancellor Philip Hammond in his 2016 Autumn Statement and started in February 2017, this programme aims to support the introduction of fifth generation (5G) mobile technology which will work much faster than current 4G networks.

The programme aims to accelerate the deployment of 5G networks, maximise their productivity and efficiency benefits, create new opportunities for UK businesses and attract inward investment. In March 2018 it funded projects covering agriculture, tourism and internet access in several rural areas; augmented and virtual reality tourism at sites including Bath’s Roman baths; a project exploring 5G’s use with connected and autonomous vehicles; use of the technology to connect areas of Liverpool which currently have limited access to reliable broadband; and use of 5G in two Worcestershire factories.

In September last year DCMS and the West Midlands Combined Authority announced the Urban Connected Communities Project, a large-scale 5G pilot across that region with at least £25m of government money available. This is at an earlier stage, with planning completed in early 2019 and “in-depth market engagement” underway. Projects will cover infrastructure deployment across the region’s seven local authorities and a demonstration of a connected ambulance able to send scans to hospitals.

There is also work on how to provide 5G to rail passengers and road vehicle users and the department has allocated £10m to security, working with the National Cyber Security Centre. It has also announced collaboration with South Korea’s government, which will introduce mobile infotainment services to Seoul’s subway system – both governments are offering £1.2m in grant funding to participating organisations.

The IPA data shows the programme had a slow start, spending just 54% of its planned £79.15m budget in the 2018-19 financial year. In comments released with the data, the department blamed “delays in equipment availability and complex programme setup”, adding that it still expects to deliver on its objectives by the programme’s March 2021 end date.

“Our 5G testbeds and trials programme aims to support the development of new 5G applications and we remain confident it is well placed to deliver its objectives,” DCMS told CSW, adding that the red/amber rating was based on an evaluation that was conducted at an earlier stage of the programme.

The programme has also announced further competitions for funding. One will make £40m available to the logistics and manufacturing sectors. Another, detailed in late August, will make £30m available to support up to 10 rural locations in using 5G for business growth, enhancing people’s lives and encouraging innovation.  SA Mathieson

Crossrail | Department for Transport | Whole life cost £15.5bn

Rating: Red

Crossrail has been in gestation since plans for a new line straddling east and west London were first hatched in the late 1980s, but only recently has delivery seemed to go off track.

The proposal eventually received the go ahead under the last Labour government in 2007 and, until last summer, appeared to be on track for the opening of the core tunnel section, connecting Paddington and Canary Wharf, in December 2018.

But Crossrail Limited (CRL), the company set up by Transport for London to build the project, announced in August 2018 that the opening of the central London section would be delayed.

The project’s chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme and chair Sir Terry Morgan both resigned following the delay’s announcement.

Due to the uncertainties surrounding the project, CRL now says services will not start running on the central London section until a six-month window between October next year and March 2021. This excludes Bond Street station where additional work will be required.

Wolstenholme’s replacement Mark Wild said in August that trial running of services is due to start in the first three months of 2020, but admitted that work to integrate the train operating and signalling systems had yet to be completed.

Engineering experts told CSW that the track record of past rail schemes, such as the even more heavily delayed Thameslink scheme, suggests the biggest headaches usually emerge at the end, when new signalling systems have to be integrated with those used by existing lines and services.

Crossrail’s cost was estimated at £14.8bn, which had been revised down by £1bn in the early phase of the project, before last summer’s delay.

This cost envelope increased to £17.6bn, subsequent to the IPA’s project data including the award of an additional £1.3bn by DfT to the Greater London Assembly and the inclusion of a £750m contingency fund. However the Public Accounts Committee concluded in a recent report on Crossrail that the final cost of the project “still remains unknown”.

PAC criticised Crossrail for splitting the main works into too many separate contracts, and expressed scepticism about DfT’s ability to oversee major rail projects until it had “properly” learnt lessons from the programme.

Despite the delays, Crossrail has not performed badly compared to similar sized mega projects around the globe, according to Nick Davies, programme director of the Institute for Government. “If they bring it in on the new timetable and budget, it will be relatively good compared to other similar sized projects,” he tells CSW.

“The really concerning thing is how poor the communication was and that we got so close to the point it was meant to be open before it was clear that the time and budget weren’t going to be met.

“It’s clear that there has been a significant breakdown of communication somewhere.”  David Blackman

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