Peter James & Partners News 34
English counties have been invited to compete for a share of £90M from Government that will go towards upgrading the local road network to improve journeys and boost growth. Bids are encouraged for a wide variety of congestion cutting schemes, including those that make use of the latest technology and which open up the data held by local councils. The competition runs until 30 June. Funding comes from the £1.3Bn National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) and will be allocated to schemes taking place from 2018 up to the end of the decade.
The new £490M competition comes following allocation of an initial £185M tranche of money from the NPIF, which is already making a difference according to the Government. Transport Minister Andrew Jones commented: “We are investing record amounts on our roads – spending more than £23Bn on providing better journeys for motorists. We are also committing a further £1.3Bn up to 2020 to cut congestion and provide important upgrades to ensure our roads are fit for the future.”
Changes must be made to guarantee the quality of training provision in highways and transportation if the Government’s new Apprenticeship Levy is to meet the industry’s needs. The levy came into force last week and requires UK employers with an annual wage bill of over £3M to commit 0.5% of it towards funding apprenticeships. Meanwhile smaller employers will have 90% of the costs of training and assessing their apprentices covered by the State.
Government hopes the initiative will support its commitment to deliver three million apprenticeships by 2020. But some have warned that a keen focus on training quality is now essential if the levy is to help close skills gaps and deliver long term, successful careers for apprentices. CIHT’s Director of Education & Membership Sue Stevens says: “Apprenticeships provide an important route into the industry, helping to boost the number of new entrants and address skills shortages. However this is not just a numbers game.”
Calls for an independent inquiry into the collapse of a High Speed 2 contract over concerns of a possible conflict of interest involving delivery partner CH2M have been rejected by the Transport Secretary. Chris Grayling was urged by two Members of Parliament to hold an inquiry into what went wrong on the £170M contract for delivery of phase 2B of the rail scheme from Crewe to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds.
CH2M chief executive Jacqueline Hinman wrote to High Speed 2 Ltd chairman David Higgins last Wednesday to formally withdraw its interest as development partner for phase 2B. In the House of Commons last week the Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan called on the Transport Secretary not to issue further contracts to other bidders on the scheme before there has been “a full inquiry into the decision making processes” involving HS2 Ltd and CH2M. High Speed 2 announced in February its intention to award the phase 2B delivery partner contract to CH2M. The client is now understood to be in discussion with rival bidder Bechtel in taking forward phase 2B.
HIGHWAYS & INFRASTRUCTURE NEWS
A link road has opened up in Northumberland that will significantly reduce congestion through the town of Morpeth. The construction of the brand new single carriageway bypass was opened last week linking the A1 with the A197 to the north of Newcastle. The new 3.8km road delivered by main contractor Carillion for Northumberland County Council is also expected to boost regional economic growth, unlock land for development and cut travel times between the A1 and the south east of the county.
The team faced a number of significant challenges on site during the construction project including delays to the programme as a result of major flooding in late 2015. In total the scheme has seen 310,000m³ of soil moved and 34,000t of asphalt laid, in addition to various ecological works. Several new structures have also been built including a grade-separated junction where the link road meets the A1.
Carlisle rail line was finally reopened for passengers travelling between Settle and Carlisle on Friday after efforts to repair the line following a major landslip took over a year to complete. The 500,000t ground movement at Eden Brows came following a period of consistently heavy rainfall and forced the closure of the line through north Yorkshire and Cumbria. Repair works saw two rows of high strength piles driven into the site’s sloping bedrock to form a ‘corridor’, upon which a 100m long concrete shelf has been installed as a solid base for the railway.
The repairs were carried out by Story Contracting. An extensive earthworks project is also planned to protect the foot of the bank down to the adjacent river Eden while the land will be stabilised using drainage systems, rock armour and tree replanting. The route’s reopening was marked by the Flying Scotsman which ran from Keighley via Settle to Carlisle on Friday. Meanwhile rail passenger services stopped at Ilkeston in Derbyshire for the first time in more than 50 years at the weekend when the town’s new station opened.
‘Time for road pricing is now’ says Steven Norris after falling revenues from fuel duty associated with more efficient vehicles and a continued growth in electric car sales are likely to prompt the Government to introduce road pricing sooner rather than later. President of ITS(UK) Steven Norris told delegates to the Traffex show in Birmingham that the £30Bn annual income from fuel receipts is in decline and will lead the Treasury to take action to protect spending across all departments.
According to Mr Norris, Providing financial incentives through road pricing for motorists to drive outside of peak hours and on more appropriate routes, such as motorways and trunk roads, would allow the highways network to be better managed. Steven Norris was challenged to explain how he thought the public will accept a system of road pricing when recent years have seen the people of Edinburgh and Manchester vote against such proposals. He replied that Government needs to be “completely open about the economics”. If you are able to show that the average motorist will not pay any more “you can bring the public with you”, he added.
London’s proposed Garden Bridge should be cancelled according to influential MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who’s report indicates that a rise in project costs would make it too much of a risk. Taxpayer contributions to the planned pedestrian bridge have failed to secure value for money and the report says that decisions were instead driven by electoral cycles. It also points out that the project’s estimated construction costs have risen from £60M to over £200M but the Garden Bridge Trust has so far only secured £69M in private funding pledges.
When added to a public sector contribution of £60M this leaves an investment gap of at least £70M that needs to be raised to build the bridge. But no new pledges have been obtained since August 2016. “I am sceptical that the Garden Bridge Trust will succeed in raising all the private capital monies required and I am firmly of the view that more public money will be needed to complete the construction,” writes Dame Margaret. The project has already used £37.4M of public money and an agreement to underwrite cancellation costs by the Government could bring the bill to the taxpayer up to £46.4M.
MIDDLE EAST NEWS
Middle Eastern airlines saw their year-on-year freight volumes increase by 3.4 percent (or about 7 percent adjusting for the leap year) in February, well below the global average, according to new data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). IATA said in a statement that air cargo capacity decreased 1.7 percent for the month, adding that seasonally adjusted freight volumes continue to trend upwards and demand remains strong between the Middle East and Europe.
Despite this, it added that growth has eased from the double-digit rates, which were the norm over the past 10 years. This corresponds with a slowdown in network expansion by the region’s major carriers. The February figures reflect a decline from the previous month when Middle Eastern carriers reported an 8.4 percent rise in air freight. Last year, the annual increase in demand of 6.9 percent was the region’s slowest pace of growth since 2009 and well below the 12 percent average annual rate seen over the past decade.
Oman Air plans to start a new daily flight between Muscat and Manchester from May 1, the latest move in the airline’s programme of fleet and network expansion.
The daily service from Oman Air will be operated by an A330 -200 and is in addition to the double daily flight from London Heathrow, making Manchester the only airport outside of London to have direct flights to Muscat.
Oman Air said in January it plans to more than double its contribution to the country’s gross domestic product this year to OR900 million ($2.3 billion) as it seeks to continue expansion of its fleet and network. Paul Gregorowitsch, CEO of Oman Air said: “This is an incredibly exciting expansion in the UK, allowing our guests to enjoy the convenience of flying direct from Oman to the north of England and also the opportunity to connect with Oman Air’s global network.
Emirates has announced plans to launch a daily A380 service to Nice, gateway to the French Riviera and Provence. The daily A380 service will start on July 1. After Paris, Nice becomes Emirates’ second destination in France to welcome the iconic double decker, the Dubai-based airline said in a statement.
Nice is currently served with a daily flight operated by a Boeing 777-300ER. The deployment of an A380 represents a capacity increase of 44 percent on the route. With 3,633 weekly seats in each direction, Emirates will offer more seats to the Middle East and beyond than any other international airline, highlighting Nice’s importance as part of the airline‘s global network.
Sources : Local Transport Today, Transport Xtra, Jobs in Transport, Department for Transport, RAC Foundation, Highways England, Chartered Institute of Highways & Transportation, Institution of Structural Engineers, LinkedIn, Transport Planning Society, ArabianBusiness.com, Gulf News, The Telegraph.