Opinion Former Article

Sector fears project delays post

Concerns for the timely delivery of vital infrastructure projects have been raised by industry commentators following Thursday’s General Election which resulted in a hung Parliament and fresh uncertainty for the sector. 

The Conservative Party took the highest share of MPs but lost its majority in the House of Commons and is now forming a minority Government, with support expected to come from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

The outcome of the election was described as “the worst possible result for the infrastructure industry” by law firm Clyde & Co. A partner at the firm Robert Meakin commented: “With the economy already struggling with the uncertainty of Brexit, the last thing we need is further confusion and delay in the Government's investment strategy.”

Civil Engineering Contractors Association director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “With the shape of any future Government hanging in the balance, we worry that this may create further delays to vital decisions that were put on hold due to the election.”

However the Association for Consultancy & Engineering chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin has urged the industry to be positive about the future. “We must maintain a calm and cool head, focus on delivery of the current infrastructure investment pipeline, continue to encourage inward investment and maintain UK competitive advantages,” he said.

There is also uncertainty over the long term future of Theresa May as Prime Minister, however her reappointment of Chris Grayling as Transport Secretary could help to bring some stability to the sector.

“Seeing a Transport Secretary returning to the same job after an election is quite a rarity,” commented RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding. “We’re all used to the ‘revolving door’ syndrome at the Department for Transport which usually sits at odds with the fact that transport decisions require both a good understanding of the issues and a long term perspective.”

He added that early priorities for Chris Grayling are likely to include making progress on key decisions such as runway capacity, the Stonehenge tunnel and the Lower Thames Crossing.

“But in addition to the big projects, we hope that the Secretary of State swiftly turns his mind to transport’s ‘ever the bridesmaid’ issue: highway maintenance,” he added.

Transport software and services provider Yotta predicted that the election result will have some knock on effect to the infrastructure industry. The company's marketing and international business director Simon Topp said: “The result is going to breed uncertainty, both in terms of Brexit and what policies will be in place around austerity and spending.

“Most major projects have some level of investment, either from the EU or from foreign companies. The uncertainty in our economy will then make investing this way riskier, so major capital projects will likely take a hit.”

CIHT has called on the new Government to invest in transport infrastructure and recognise its importance to the economic development of all parts of the UK. “Certainty of funding and investment is fundamental, so the on-going development of industrial and housing strategies remains key,” said chief executive Sue Percy.

She added: “Brexit will provide the UK with the opportunity to use transportation infrastructure investment to ensure that we have the economy and resources to improve our productivity and competitiveness in global markets. 

“CIHT will be looking to work with politicians during this next period to promote the certainty and commitments that UK infrastructure requires.”

Also returning to Theresa May’s Cabinet alongside Transport Secretary Chris Grayling are Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, Communities & Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid and Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Greg Clark.

Meanwhile Michael Gove has been named Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, with pressure to reduce poor air quality in many towns and cities among his immediate priorities.

Cycling and walking charity Sustrans’ chief executive Xavier Brice said: “The new Government must urgently improve the quality of the air that we breathe through an ambitious new Clean Air Act which tackles tailpipe emissions but also encourages a real shift in how people travel to the least polluting of all modes – walking and cycling.

“This is not just about the next five years but the next 50 years.”

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