Opinion Former Article

Brexit vote unsettles transport sector

Government is urged to reaffirm its commitment to deliver major infrastructure schemes following Britain’s shock decision to leave the European Union.

Several senior transport commentators fear that the result of Thursday’s referendum will affect project investment, but others say the split presents new opportunities. CIHT chief executive Sue Percy said: “The political ramifications of a vote to leave have contributed to uncertainty across the transport infrastructure sector. Our sector needs to work together to reduce this and we would like to see clarification on key projects including HS2 and airport expansion that had been identified in the National Infrastructure Plan. CIHT will also be reviewing the potential impact of changes to funding across the devolved nations and as part of the City Region devolution deals.” “CIHT is in a key position to act as a facilitator to bring together all parts of the sector to discuss ways to minimise disruption and respond quickly to opportunities that will emerge from leaving the EU,” she added. “We will be reviewing the ongoing discussions in more detail and will be keeping our members informed of any future developments.”

Civil Engineering Contractors Association’s head of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said the UK must act to secure its economy, but growth will only be delivered if supported by world class infrastructure.

“The change in circumstance has unsettled the markets which, if unchecked, may discourage long term investment in UK infrastructure,” she said.

“We call on Ministers to first stabilise Government then re-establish its commitment to the projects outlined in the National Infrastructure Plan, most notably High Speed 2 and a third runway at Heathrow in order to maintain economic confidence.”

AECOM’s UK and Ireland chief executive Patrick Flaherty said a positive, long term focus on the future is required “despite a referendum result that we and many businesses did not want.

“Focus must remain on progressing the UK’s ambitious infrastructure pipeline. Schemes such as High Speed 2, Crossrail 2 and the Northern Powerhouse programme are vital to the country’s ability to compete on a global stage, which is more crucial than ever due to “These are unchartered waters made even more uncertain by the Prime Minister’s announced resignation,” he added. “As a country we must navigate wisely. It is critical that the domestic agenda is not sidelined as the UK faces a minimum of two years of Arcadis UK chief executive Alan Brookes said the challenge for the construction industry is not simply to respond to Brexit but, more importantly, respond to the opportunities that Brexit will bring.

“Although demand is likely to fall in some sectors this could actually take some of the pressure off over-stretched markets. One of the big questions we now face is: how can we ensure we have enough people with the right skills to build the houses, roads and rail lines of the future?”

He added that European labour may no longer be the safety valve it has been so we must plan to use the workforce differently. “Using more offsite components and investing in skills and the management of projects will now prove absolutely vital.”

The Institute for Public Policy Research (North) director Ed Cox said the referendum result should now accelerate the move towards devolving greater power to the English regions.

Ed Cox added that calls for an east-west freight supercorridor linking Atlantic shipping to Liverpool with the European continent via Hull, should grow louder.

He went on to say: “Both major political parties must reinvent themselves from the bottom up with more plural local political systems that bring people closer to power.”

The Freight Transport Association says that coming out of the EU risks new costs, restrictions and bureaucratic requirements being imposed on moving goods in and out of FTA chief executive David Wells said: “Even though we are coming out of Europe politically, it remains our biggest export market and the supplier of a high proportion of our imports. We cannot allow new bureaucratic burdens to hamper the efficient movement of exports heading for customers and imported goods destined for British consumers."

Fears have also been expressed that the Brexit vote will lead to a rise in the price of oil for the UK. Campaign group FairFuelUK founder Howard Cox said: “We hope the new Brexit Government team will ensure 37M UK drivers are not discriminated against.”

The group is calling for an assurance from Government that fuel taxes will not increase in any Budget or Autumn Statement, but be cut to motivate the whole of the UK’s economy.

A Department for Transport spokesman claimed that Government remains committed to delivering infrastructure projects and will continue to take forward legislation put before Parliament in the Queen’s Speech.

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