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Contractors to benefit from '20-year high' in science investment

Contractors are set to benefit from the biggest investment in science infrastructure in 20 years, Aecom’s science and innovation head has told Construction News.

Mark Halstead said the government’s move to increase its capital spending on scientific research and infrastructure would create opportunities for contractors that had not previously worked in the sector.

“Science is one of the areas of future growth,” he said. “Without a doubt there will be an increase in the facilities required, which will create work for contractors.”

In June, the Treasury set out long-term infrastructure investment plans in its Investing in Britain’s future report. Among them was an increase in science capital funding in real terms from £0.6bn in 2012/13 to £1.1bn in 2015/16, and then in line with inflation to 2016/17.

“Without a doubt there will be an increase in the facilities required, which will create work for contractors”

Mark Halstead, Aecom

“Last time we had this level of investment was the mid-1990s,” Mr Halstead said. “There was an infrastructure spending spree then, but this is the first major cash injection [into the sector] for 20 years.”

Aecom was last month appointed project and cost manager to a £25m research laboratory for the National Physical Laboratory in Middlesex, for which it will manage the tender process and the design-and-construction teams through to completion of the project.

Although the science sector was “quite a hard market to break into”, Mr Halstead said it was “not a crowded marketplace” with only a small number of well-established contractors and supply chain partners building facilities.

While private sector clients often use established frameworks and closed tendering processes for their developments, publicly funded projects in the science sector will be openly tendered either on a single-project basis or through a framework, creating potential opportunities for new contractors to win work.

Mr Halstead said there were “very few” contractor frameworks in the public sector that are applicable to science research.

“Contractors successful in this market are those who can understand the client’s technical criteria and have a track record in delivering complex buildings,” he said.

Those well-positioned to work on research facilities include contractors that have worked in the health sector or on other projects where buildings require highly specific internal conditions for the end-user.

“Due to the nature of scientific research, conditions within the completed building need to be very precise,” Mr Halstead added. “The projects are heavily engineered and a large amount of building services work is needed to construct them.”

Aecom lands £25m science lab project

The Advanced Metrology Laboratory at the National Physical Laboratory will be home to around 40 researchers studying measurement science and specialising in nano and quantum metrology.

Aecom will manage the design and construction of the new building for the National Measurement Office.

It will begin procuring contractors early next year, with the project due for completion in early 2017.

The £25m scheme is being funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. The government said the project reinforced its commitment to invest in science and technology to keep the UK ahead of its global competitors.

Aecom recently delivered a £212m state-of-the-art research facility for the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, which was completed in May.


Contractors delivering work in the science sector include Bam Construction and Willmott Dixon, which last year completed the £175m Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the £25m Department of Materials Science and & Metallurgy respectively, both for the University of Cambridge.

Meanwhile Vinci is working on the £54m Biological Life Sciences Building for the University of Bristol, which is due to be completed by the end of the year.

Work to build new academic facilities and research units is expected to be spread across the country, with projects expected at existing universities and science parks.

The University of Birmingham this month started its search for a contractor to design and build a £60m High Temperature Research Centre, which is being funded by a £40m investment by Rolls-Royce and a £20m contribution from the Higher Education Funding Agency for England.

The research centre will consist of industrial work areas, technical laboratories and office spaces to provide world-leading research and teaching to university students.

London is likely to be the focus of construction due to the concentration of leading universities in the capital and the development of Google’s new £1bn headquarters at King’s Cross, which Aecom is helping to deliver as cost consultant.

But Aecom expects there also to be significant projects in Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, driven by the universities in those cities, as well as in the Midlands and the North of England in partnership with industrial and manufacturing private sector clients.

Mr Halstead said the recent funding announcements were “going the right way” but that the government needed to form more of these commercial partnerships with industry to ensure public investment in science will deliver economic returns.

Investing in Britain’s Future commitments to science infrastructure:

  • Increase science capital funding in real terms from £0.6bn in 2012/13 to £1.1bn in 2015/16 and in line with inflation to 2016/17;
  • The upgrade and refurbishment of essential research infrastructure;
  • Investment in new facilities for the ‘Eight Great Technologies’, including big data, space, robots and autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agricultural technologies, advanced materials and energy storage;
  • Provide higher education institutions with infrastructure capital to ensure they have access to the latest capabilities;
  • The Department of Health providing £150m of capital investment in 2015/16 to fund health research infrastructure in the areas of dementia, genomics and imaging.

 

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