Major projects special report: infrastructure and construction

Written by Richard Johnstone on 18 September 2018 in Feature
Feature

In a special report looking at the Government Major Projects Portfolio, CSW brings you a snapshot of progress across four categories: infrastructure and construction, transformation and service delivery, information and communications technology, and military capability. This first section looks at three infrastructure and construction projects

Photo: PA

31 projects | £196bn whole life cost

3 Red | 9 Amber/Red | 10 Amber | 6 Amber/Green | 2 Green | 1 Exempt

Infrastructure and construction is the largest category in terms of the whole life cost in the GMPP. The strand covers a range of projects to improve the UK’s infrastructure, which as well as transport projects such as road and rail schemes, also covers some technology projects, such as delivering superfast broadband, and the Department for Education’s Priority School Building Programme.

These schemes tend to stay as part of GMPP for longer than those in transformation and service delivery and ICT categories, and the projects under the heading were, along with the military schemes, the drivers of the overall increase in red and amber red traffic light ratings over the last two years.

One project in the infrastructure and construction portfolio is exempt from the traffic light rating – the Heat Networks Investment Project. It has been excluded due to commercial confidentiality.

Project case studies

M20 lorry area | Department for Transport | Whole life cost £246m

Rated Red

This project, which impacts on the government’s work to prepare the UK for trade after Brexit, is an example of how projects can face trouble before there is even a fork in the ground – or in this case, the road.

The initial plan was for the creation of a dedicated lorry park at Stanford, near Folkestone, for up to 3,600 lorries to prevent the need for Operation Stack – the procedure used to convert parts of the M20 motorway into a lorry park at times of disruption in cross-Channel trade.  This plan was developed following a government funding commitment in November 2015 of up to £250m for a new permanent lorry area, and a consultation in early 2016 was held on which of two locations in Stanford should be used.

A site known as Stanford West was identified for the park, but the project entered the government’s major projects portfolio in 2017 with a red rating. This year’s traffic light score is also red, reflecting that the original proposal had to be withdrawn, and a Highways England consultation over a possible new site is underway.

The analysis of the project set out in the IPA transparency data notes that, after a judicial challenge was lodged against the project in October 2016 for the plan on the original site, “advice received from external legal counsel throughout 2017 reinforced low delivery confidence and the government was unable to defend against legal challenge”. As a result, the government cancelled the project in November 2017, although it set out new options at the same time, for ‘business as usual’ lorry parking in Kent, which could be ready next spring.

But, the interim solution has recently hit the headlines as Dover District Council warned that the proposal for a 13-mile lorry park between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 could last for years.

The Department for Transport told CSW that Highways England’s consultation was looking for the broad solution – such as whether it should be an on- or off-road lorry park and whether it should encompass overnight parking or other facilities, but not specific locations.

Industry group the Freight Transport Association has stressed the importance of managing queues safely at the Channel ports until a permanent lorry parking area can be built. “It is vital both for the logistics industry, and for Kent as a whole, that traffic can continue to flow freely throughout the county, and the proposed solution could provide that for now,” said Christopher Snelling, FTA’s head of UK policy.

Priority School Building Programme 2 | Department for Education | Whole life cost £2.1bn

Rated Amber/Red

One of two tranches of the government’s flagship school building policy, Priority School Building Programme 2 is facing some of the same issues as its predecessor. The PSBP1 project to rebuild and/or refurbish 260 schools through capital grants was first included in the GMPP in 2015, when it was given an amber-red rating, which it held for a year until it dropped out of the portfolio in 2017. Its re-inclusion in 2018 saw it receive an amber-green rating as “the vast majority of schools expected to be handed over by the end of 2017, two years earlier than originally announced”.

The Department for Education told CSW the majority of the schools in the first phase of the programme were indeed opened in their new or refurbished buildings by the end of 2017. Under the second phase of the programme, PSBP2, it plans to have all 277 schools open in their new/refurbished buildings by the end of 2021.

However, the DfE analysis published by the IPA notes that a number of external factors that impacted the first phase continue to impact the second phase of the scheme. The most significant of these is the recovery of the construction market, which leads to “a lack of interest from contractors in the new batches of schools being released into procurement and contractors continue to seek additional funding”.

PSBP2 has received an amber-red rating in both its years in the GMPP (2016 and 2018). The DfE highlights that the plan for rebuilding or refurbishing this batch schools is its early stages but will need to adjust to a changing construction market and demand for commodities like steel.

“We continue to review and adapt our market strategy to identify further opportunities and solutions to drive value for money for the projects remaining in the programme pipeline. There is growing evidence of a significant increase in demand for construction capacity leading to cost pressures to deliver the programme to the agreed timeframe and capital budget. This is being addressed as more detailed feasibility assessments are made of the individual projects.”

To ensure value for money for the public sector, schools in both phases of the programme are grouped together to drive strong competition, according to the assessment in the IPA transparency data, and the scheme’s senior responsible officer is confident that good progress is being made.

The scheme is praised as an exemplar in the IPA annual report with results and recommendations now being used to help support more effective programme delivery.

“PSBP2 although in the early stages does not at this point indicate any overall delays in delivery,” it concludes.

New polar research vessel | Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy | Whole life cost £1.4bn

Rated Amber/Green

The development of the ship that the public wanted to call Boaty McBoatface is a government major project success stories.

Developed by the Natural Environment Research Council and British Antarctic Survey to replace two aging science and logistics support polar vessels, it has maintained its amber green rating since entering the GMPP in 2016.

Dani Durston, the head of infrastructure delivery and assurance at NERC tells CSW the project has been a good example of collaboration.

A programme board, chaired by NERC’s chief operating officer Paul Fox, who is the senior responsible officer, provides oversight with members from NERC and BAS, as well as from BEIS and others including shipyard Cammell Laird. There are also two dedicated programme offices – one within NERC, which has monitored the IPA actions, all of which are now in progress or closed, and one within BAS, which has worked to ensure the plans meet the requirements of researchers.

“We have had scientists go up to the Cammell Laird shipyard – they are not used to their end users coming and explaining things – but that has really helped in terms of getting the message across between our delivery partners building the vessel, and our users,” says Durston.

Cammell Laird is set to deliver the vessel later this year, and Durston highlights the role of both the IPA and BEIS in assisting the scheme.

“The training that the IPA provided has been useful, exposing us to different ways of doing things, newer project management methodologies, and allowing people to build up really close networks with other people working on major projects,” she says. Senior figures have sought assistance from Ministry of Defence colleagues, for example.

BEIS’s responsibilities helped when industrial issues arose, such as uncertainty over steel during construction when the future of the Port Talbot steelworks was in doubt.

And even that name imbroglio has been positive. The initial joke suggestion on an online poll ended up winning the national vote in 2016, and although NERC instead named it after Sir David Attenborough, one of the ship’s autonomous underwater vehicles has been named Boaty.

“It really captured people’s attention and having Sir David Attenborough has carried that on,” says Durston.

“Boaty being one of the autonomous underwater vehicles has also seen a real engagement – children just love it. I have given talks in schools, as have some of the others in the project team. It has taken some stuffy project delivery people out of the office to engage with kids.”

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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