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Q&A: Alan Brookes, Arcadis

The boss of Arcadis in the UK is positive about the prospects for infrastructure – but wants to see more consistency from government and closer collaboration with contractors.

What are your hopes for 2016?

I’m hoping to see a more consistent approach from government to investment, particularly in infrastructure. The extra £12bn pledged in the Autumn Statement is a clear sign of commitment, but we need stable policies that allow wider institutional investment to follow.

UK infrastructure is an attractive place to invest but we need to make more of these funds. Equally, the fact that the government is encouraging the transfer of powers to local authorities is encouraging.

This gives authorities with elected leaders the ability to raise capital for infrastructure, housing and building projects, and I’m hopeful this will provide a more viable delivery model, speed up investment and generate a greater spread of wealth across the country.

What are the top three ways construction will change in the next 12 months?

1) Devolution has been one of the biggest game-changers this year and I think we’ll see a lot more UK cities going down this road in 2016. We can expect to see the shape of the UK and UK governance changing dramatically. However, one of the knock-on effects will be that many newly formed authorities lack the experience to deliver major schemes, so we’ll see more collaboration between operators, owners, investors, contractors and consultants to achieve successful outcomes.

2) Technology is going to play an even greater role in the industry moving forward. From the use of BIM through to digital fabrication in housebuilding and smart cities using digital technologies to enhance the quality and performance of the urban environment, the use of new technologies is going to gain increasing momentum.

3) Finally, with construction activity increasing and the UK retaining its position as a top destination for investment, we’re likely to see more foreign contractors coming in and forming consortiums to address large project delivery.

What were your low and high points of 2015?

A low point would be the constraints experienced by the social infrastructure sector. Health and education in particular have been held back by a lack of adequate investment to address the real issues and, while we can work with clients to drive efficiencies and unlock capital, these sectors will continue to struggle until wider funding issues have been resolved.

My personal high would be our move to a single, global Arcadis brand. In the UK, the heritage EC Harris and Hyder brands have been working as ‘One Arcadis’ for some time, but 2015 saw us truly realising the benefits that come from combining the capabilities of 3,800 people.

Our appointment on projects ranging from HSBC to Crossrail 2 shows the extent to which clients value the broader services we’ve been able to provide.

EU referendum: In or out?

If the UK is to maintain its financial standing, we need to remain part of the EU.

There is a very real risk that if the UK leaves, it will not only have a negative impact on recruitment and the flow of skills and trade, but could also hamper our ability to attract international investment.

Which sectors will you be focusing on in 2016?

Infrastructure will remain a focus, particularly highways, rail and aviation following the government’s committed investment in these areas. The residential market equally remains key. As a country we need to be delivering more homes, both in number and tenure type, to meet the demands of a growing and ageing population.

Financial institutions play a key role in the industry’s growth and we’ll continue to focus on working with investors, owners and operators in unlocking asset value and delivering strategic objectives.

Finally, we’ll be maintaining our city focus, working cross-sector with developed and emerging cities to address their regional needs.

Alan Brookes is UK CEO of Arcadis

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