15 October 2019


1 August 2016

Not so grand

First Heathrow and now Hinkley; is the age of the ‘grand projet’ over?

Since Theresa May has become prime minister, the government has delayed its decision on the future of air travel in the south-east (again – no surprise there, many might say), and put the Hinkley Point C nuclear power scheme on hold.

Meanwhile, in the partnerships sphere over recent weeks, London mayor Sadiq Khan has launched a review into the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, and in Wales the flagship Circuit of Wales racing track in Ebbw Vale remains in financing limbo.

All in all, it may be time to conclude that the age of the ‘grand projet’, so beloved by former Chancellor George Osborne, is over. Certainly his successor, Philip Hammond, is known to be much more of a details man than one who wants to be seen in a high-vis jacket on a building site.

Should we be worried, then? Probably not.

For a start, one of the grandest projects – HS2 – is still going ahead with full government support. And of course there is no suggestion (at the moment, at least) that the proposed Crossrail 2 scheme will be shelved.

But perhaps more importantly, a reassessment of government spending priorities (whether or not any of the above schemes go ahead or not) could be valuable to the industry. And financial troubles post the Brexit vote last month could prove to be the trigger that the new government needs.

Hammond has already spoken about “resetting” the economic course of the country in the wake of new challenges, and that might mean a less slavish attachment to ‘economic’ infrastructure at the cost of other areas such as schools.

There is mounting data that not only does the UK need more primary schools, but that is going to translate into the need for a vast increase in demand for secondary school places in the next few years.

Can a government that insists on improving the quality of education to create a more work-ready society really avoid providing the buildings in which the next generation will be taught?

Questions will no doubt be asked of the government’s willingness to use private finance for future deals, after arch PFI-critic Jesse Norman was given a junior ministerial role that covers infrastructure and construction. But it must be remembered that Norman declared himself pleased with the outcome of his campaign and has even been credited in some quarters with coming up with the name for PFI’s replacement: PF2.

It may be that Norman is the ideal person on whom to put some pressure to demonstrate his faith in the new model, and get him to back the horse he helped to create with a new pipeline of investment.



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Not so grand


First Heathrow and now Hinkley; is the age of the ‘grand projet’ over?

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