HS2 chief executive weighs in on the skills crisis, the benefits of forward planning, European expertise and bringing HS2 to Crewe six years ahead of schedule.
What are your hopes for 2016?
Top of the wishlist has got to be royal assent, the final ‘planning permission’ we need to begin construction, as planned, in 2017. We expect the legislative process to be complete by the end of the year, but if MPs want to take longer looking at the detail, that’s their decision and I support that. The most important outcome is that we get the right balance.
What are the top three ways construction will change in the next 12 months?
1) BIM is going to revolutionise the way we work as an industry. It’s already starting to happen, but with government mandating from April, it’s going to make a big impact on a lot more projects.
2) Skills: I think the industry recognises that we need to get much better at building higher-level vocational skills. The new National College for High Speed Rail and our 2,000 apprenticeships will make a difference, but it’s going to be a long-term challenge.
3) Linked to that is diversity. I think the industry is still not taking diversity as seriously as it should be, like other sectors have. As a result, we are missing out on attracting the best people into construction. I hope that will start to change soon.
What were your low and high points of 2015?
Two lows. First was seeing the images of the TGV accident back in November. While high-speed rail has an outstanding safety record overall, the tragedy in France is a sobering reminder of why safety must continue to be at the heart of everything we do at HS2.
Another low: it won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone working in the industry, but the recent Women in Rail report on diversity really shows how far we’ve got to go as an industry.
My personal high was standing next to the chancellor back in November as he announced that we were taking HS2 from Birmingham to Crewe six years early. Having that commitment to bring the benefits of high-speed rail much further north by 2027 is incredibly important.
EU referendum: In or out?
I wouldn’t want to second-guess the will of the British public. What I do know is that with 7,000 km of high-speed rail built over the last three decades, there is a lot we can learn from Europe in terms of design and construction techniques.
Which areas will you be focusing on in 2016?
For me, it’s all about preparing for the start of construction and getting our construction partnerships in place. So market engagement will continue as a priority. That and more planning. I’m a big believer in the value of doing as much forward planning as possible. It may seem obvious, but if plans change, it’s much cheaper on paper than on site.
This is why it’s so important that we develop a strong working relationship with industry to provide detailed design and delivery in the most cost-effective and efficient way. Learning lessons from similar experience around the world is a must.