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Timing of George Osborne HS3 announcement questioned by Sir John Armitt

UK infrastructure planning requires a more “methodical approach” rather than presenting schemes such as High Speed 3 “without any real background analysis”, according to Sir John Armitt.

Chancellor George Osborne announced last month he wanted to see a high-speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds to create a “northern global powerhouse”.

Mr Osborne said HS3 would be considered as part of a High Speed 2 second phase review with HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins to investigate the proposals, expected to cost £7bn.

Sir John told Construction News: “I’d argue that [proposals such as HS3] demonstrate the difficulty of today’s world, where we get these inspired ideas which are presented without any real background analysis.

“Clearly there is some intuitive thought that goes into them, but when you are looking at things on this scale, it’s got to be done in a much more thorough and detailed [way] to try to ensure you get the right answers and not the first one that seems obvious.”

In numbers


Estimated cost of High Speed 3


Length in miles of the proposed Inner Orbital Tunnel


Number of projects listed in the National Infrastructure Plan


Firms that believe government policies will improve infrastructure on the ground over next five years

The Olympic Delivery Authority chairman was commenting on the likelihood of future infrastructure projects such as HS3 or Transport for London’s proposed £30bn Inner Orbital Tunnel ring road scheme going ahead.

The TfL scheme would have underground dual carriageways linking key routes, from the A40 Westway to the A12 in the east, and the A1 route north to the A2 running south.

Speaking at a roads conference in London this month, TfL managing director for planning Michèle Dix insisted the scheme was being given “serious consideration” to cater for projected population growth – if finance could be secured

She said TfL would consider implementing tolls for future road projects to deter current public transport users back onto roads.

An RSA City Growth Commission report released this week called for greater connectivity between northern cities and suggested that projects such as HS3 should be prioritised.

It said that only 35 per cent of firms believe government policies will improve infrastructure on the ground over the next five years.

“I don’t think the infrastructure community is going to be terribly happy with no substantive proposal to either acknowledge and run with Sir John’s proposals”

Richard Threlfall, KPMG

Both the Conservative and Labour parties have been under pressure to set out their priorities for infrastructure delivery following next year’s general election.

Labour has endorsed Sir John’s proposal to create a national infrastructure commission.

However, the government has refused to support the proposal, with both the prime minister and chancellor insisting the government’s National Infrastructure Plan delivers the long-term certainty the industry needs.

KPMG UK head of infrastructure, building and construction Richard Threlfall said: “There is a thirst in the infrastructure community to understand what a Conservative government would do in this space post-election, if it was elected.

“I don’t think the infrastructure community is going to be terribly happy with no substantive proposal to either acknowledge and run with Sir John’s proposals or [give a] clear alternative.”

He said Sir John was right to ensure projects such as HS3 do not “sit in the ether” but stressed greater connectivity was vital to the North and backed the proposed £7bn link.

HS3 would be born out of a more explicit understanding of the balance of the economy through the commission, Mr Threlfall added.


See tomorrow for the full interview with Sir John Armitt in which he discusses contractor support for his proposed infrastructure commission, government strategy and why housing should form a greater part on national infrastructure plans.

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