Businesses push government to complete HS2 railway

Business leaders are calling on the next prime minister to commit to delivering HS2 in full.

In an open letter, more than 20 business leaders say continued backing for the next phase of the £56bn high-speed rail network project is vital.

Construction of the first HS2 link between London and the West Midlands is currently under way.

Business leaders want to see the line linking Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds completed as well.

The open letter, targeted at whoever wins the Conservative leadership vote out of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, has been signed by business groups including the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce, London First and Business Improvement Districts across the UK.

It comes almost five years the “Northern Powerhouse” concept, first mentioned in a speech by the then Chancellor, George Osborne, in a speech on 23 June 2014.

Mr Osborne had planned to improve transport connections between the cities, towns and rural communities of the north of England and Wales, in order to increase jobs and fuel economic growth in the region.

‘Record investment’

The groups assert that the HS2 has already led to record foreign investment in the West Midlands, including the creation of 7,000 new jobs in Birmingham, with a further 100,000 more expected around the new Curzon Street and Interchange stations.

Business leaders are concerned that the forthcoming change of prime minister could lead to the rail network not being completed.

In May, a group of peers warned that HS2 would not offer value for money and risked “short-changing” the North of England.

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee said the project should not go ahead without a new assessment of its costs and benefits.

“We assert that committing to HS2 in full, once and for all, will spread the flow of investment across the Midlands, the North of England and into Scotland,” the leaders wrote in the letter.

“The current poor connectivity in the North is a major obstacle to encouraging companies from growing in the region and is a barrier to inward investment.”

According to Transport for the North, fewer than 10,000 people in northern England are able to access four or more of the region’s largest economic centres within an hour.

The leaders wrote: “We urge the next prime minister and government to restate its commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail, and its links to HS2, as a matter of urgent priority.

“We are passionate believers that this is not just a Northern issue. It is a UK issue.

“We should move away from arguments that pit Crossrail 2 in London versus Northern Powerhouse Rail; both schemes are vital for Britain’s future. It’s not an either/or choice. Britain needs both.”

The Department for Transport told the BBC: “HS2 is well under way, with over 9,000 people and 2,000 businesses working on delivering the project right now. It will significantly improve connections between our largest cities, create extra capacity across our rail network and release capacity on some of our busiest rail lines.

“We are also clear that it is not either/or with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, as both are needed – the full benefits of NPR can only be delivered on the back of HS2.”

Leicester City road improvement programme starts next week

A £250,000 programme of surface dressing works on roads across the city is due to begin next week.

Leicester City Council is carrying out the maintenance programme which will cover 10 roads, including residential streets and major routes through the city. Each road will be completed in one day.

Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “This summer maintenance programme is part of our ongoing investment in the city’s road network, and will ensure these roads are in as good a position as possible before we head towards autumn and winter.”

Work will begin on Sunday, June 23 in partnership with Leicestershire County Council, when Soar Valley Way will be resurfaced in both directions between Lutterworth Road & Grove Way.

Covering a total area of 25,000 square metres – half in the city and half in the county – the work will begin at 6am using a rolling lane closures throughout the day.

The remaining sites will start on Tuesday, June 25 and will run for one week in total, covering parts of Abbey, Beaumont Leys, Braunstone Park & Rowley Fields and Knighton .

Red Hill Way between Halifax Drive and Beaumont Leys Lane will be fully closed at 7am on Sunday, June 30 to enable work to be carried out.  The section from Halifax Drive to Border Drive will be completed by 9.20am to enable buses to use it.

The council has written to residents of the roads concerned to advise that on-road parking will not be possible while work is underway.

The surface dressing work is part of the city council’s £2.4m highways maintenance programme. In total it will cover almost 44,000 square metres of road.

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Scotland’s Energy future ‘faces major obstacles’

Scotland faces “substantial obstacles” in the drive to cut carbon while keeping energy supplies reliable and affordable, a study has said.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh said compromise and trade-offs would be needed to help meet future energy needs.

The society’s experts have called for a new independent Scottish energy commission.

Both the Scottish and UK governments have committed to cutting carbon.

At the same time, Scotland’s big energy companies have been investing in green energy.

And the UK oil and gas industry has said “it is listening” to concerns about climate change.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s report came after a two-year investigation, which included speaking to experts, industry figures and the public.

It said that in the last few decades, Scotland had manage to virtually eliminate the burning of coal, while being able to produce 100% of its electricity from renewable sources on days when “conditions are favourable”.

But the report called for more to be done, including :

  • Cutting energy demand
  • Energy investment decisions should be considered by the Scottish and UK governments “in a timely manner”
  • Increasing the ability to store energy
  • Tougher rules on making new housing and other buildings more energy efficient
  • Increase investment in trials of community energy schemes and “energy education” in schools, colleges and universities.

Strathclyde University’s Prof Rebecca Lunn, who co-chaired the society’s inquiry, told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “In Scotland, a large part of our electricity is renewables, but only about a quarter of our current energy consumption is actually electricity – most of it is in heat and transport.

“We still have nearly 80% of oil and gas, and we need to take that from oil and gas into something that is low carbon, which is a really significant challenge.”

Prof Lunn said converting gas-burning domestic heaters to run on heat coming from beneath the ground was one of several options – but added that these types of projects were expensive.

“Ultimately, we need to do things differently, so we need to increase the volume of renewables, but that’s not gong to be enough to produce what we require in the long run,” she added.

“Energy is likely to become more expensive and we need to combat that because we already have social justice issues in Scotland around what heat people can afford.”

The Royal Society of Edinburgh report said no single energy policy would solve the issues it highlighted, while pointing out that many methods of generating energy had advantages and drawbacks, including:

  • Carbon capture and storage could limit climate damage, but needed “a very high level of continued investment”
  • Developing new green energy schemes like solar and tidal, and a move from natural gas to hydrogen, could significantly cut carbon, but also require high levels of investment
  • Supplying energy from one source to multiple buildings, known as district heating, could help people struggling to pay energy bills, but has “high up-front costs”
  • “Significant oil and gas reserves” in the UK continental shelf provide a secure energy source, but burning fossil fuels continues to make the climate change issue worse
  • Shale gas and fracking could improve energy security, but there is “significant uncertainty” over how much is stored underground.
  • Nuclear power stations “provide Scotland with a significant amount of secure, reliable generation”, but building new ones, managing nuclear waste and decommissioning result in “substantial costs”.

The report came as big energy companies like Scottish Power and SSE have been investing in green energy projects.

Vodafone pumps Manchester for 5G ecosystem development

In a few weeks’ time, Vodafone will become the second telco in the UK to switch on its ‘5G’ network, but up in Manchester, the team is focusing on ecosystem development.

At an event dubbed ‘Go Beyond’, the Vodafone team launched its Digital Innovation Hub in an attempt to help the next-generation. This is perhaps one of the important facets of 5G which is missed in general discussions; 5G isn’t just about speed, its about offering new tools to innovators to create services which would not be deemed possible on 4G networks.

“The Digital Innovation Hub is an example of how we are empowering today’s start-ups and small businesses with the expertise and technologies to help turn their blueprints into reality,” said Anne Sheehan, Business Director at Vodafone UK. “Our 5G services can help UK start-ups become global leaders in their fields.”

For the telcos, being first to launch 5G offers a competitive edge in the utilitised world of connectivity, and also bragging rights, but there is a bigger win for the economies and societies which drive forward the fastest; the opportunity and ability to get a jump start to create services which will define the technology world of tomorrow.

This would appear to be one of the objectives behind the innovation hub opened here by Vodafone; put the technology in the hands of start-ups and entrepreneurs.

“Such investment and commitment from the private sector supports our ambition to make Salford one of the world’s most attractive cities for digital enterprises,” said Paul Dennett, City Major of Salford.

“It will also boost the local economy and help attract new jobs and opportunities for the people of Salford, Great Manchester and beyond. This commitment also further strengthens Salford’s Innovation Triangle connecting MediaCityUK with the University of Salford and Salford Royal Foundation Trust, our outstanding and leading hospital in the City.”

Think about the impact which 4G had on yesteryear and today. Many of the countries who were the first to launch 4G networks created some of the most influential technology companies in the industry today. Prior to 4G, Uber, Spotify, Tencent, Alibaba or AirBnB didn’t exist (or did but weren’t anywhere near at full scale), but with the new connectivity buzz, new jobs, wealth and segments were carved out.

Arguably the UK missed out on this craze. It was the 28th country to launch 4G networks, and while it maintains a healthy position in the technology standings today, other nations who were quicker to the finish line reaped greater benefits.

5G isn’t just about going faster, it is about having the opportunity to create services which are not conceivable today. But to do that, the networks need to up and running. With all four of the MNOs planning to launch 5G this year, and each taking a slightly different geographical rollout plan, the UK has an opportunity to capture the new revenue created through the upgraded networks.

The UK currently accounts for around 35% of all European unicorns created over the last few years, while the technology sector has outpaced average GDP growth by 4X since the European referendum. The technology sector is on the up in the UK, but 5G launches and scaled deployment are critical to ensure this position is not eclipsed by other nations.

Leading Women in Rail campaigner Anna Delvecchio honoured with portrait plaque at London Transport Museum

Anna Delvecchio, the Rail Sector Deal co-lead and Amey’s commercial account director, has received unique recognition from the Rail Supply Group with a portrait of her unveiled at the London Transport Museum.

Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail and trustee of the museum, alongside rail minister Andrew Jones, unveiled the portrait of Delvecchio with the aim to inspire future generations of female engineers and transport professionals.

Amey said the accolade is in honour of Anna’s work, both in developing the Rail Sector Deal and her work promoting diversity and inclusion across the industry.

The portrait was unveiled at a Rail Supply Group Reception, and will stand alongside historical transport figures such as Hannah Dadds, Ellen Bulfield and Joy Jarvis.

Sir Peter Hendy said: “I am absolutely delighted for Anna and she fully deserves her place in history. We need more women in the transport profession.

“Her leading role in securing the Rail Sector Deal, as well as her work promoting diversity and inclusion, is an inspiration to all.

Over the last two years, Delvecchio has been co-leading the Rail Sector Deal, the industry’s response the government’s Industrial strategy in order to address key rail challenges and encourage cross-industry collaboration. The proposal aims to reduce the cost of infrastructure, encourage greater use of digital technologies and double the UK’s rail industry exports by 2025.

Delvecchio has also become a leading figure for diversity and inclusion for the transport sector, and is the chair for the Women in Rail South Group as well as being named Transport Woman of the Year in 2018.

Anna said: “I am incredibly humbled and grateful to the Rail Supply Group and the London Transport Museum for this incredible gesture.

“I am more committed than ever to continue what I have started and make the transport profession a more inclusive place for all.”

Huawei saga is no good for anyone – Nokia UK CEO

Some might assume the suspicion which is being placed on Huawei might work out well for its competitors, but that is certainly not the case.

In certain markets, there are clear benefits to having Huawei as the political punching bag of the technology world, the US is a prime example. Huawei is banned in the US, but it has never really made a profitable charge in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave and look at Ericsson’s wins with Verizon in the pre-standard 5G world. But it can also be a negative.

“It’s bad for us as well,” said Nokia UK CEO Cormac Whelan. “It throws a cloud over technology, networks rollout and security.”

Whelan’s example to demonstrate this point is an effective one. When Volkswagen got caught red-handed in the emissions scandal, it wasn’t too long before questions were asked about others in the automotive industry. The Huawei security issue is not directly comparable, but Nokia and Ericsson are certainly being caught in the wake of this scandal, especially in the UK.

Who is benefitting from the increased scrutiny and uncertainty which is building in the UK? No-one. Without any end in sight for the on-going Supply Chain Review, telcos do not want to spend money on 5G infrastructure. They don’t want to spend on Huawei in case they have to rip and replace, and they do not want to spend on anyone else as they might be able to buy Huawei. The uncertainty is holding the UK telco industry to ransom.

And of course, you have to wonder what the impact might be on consumer adoption of 5G.

“The impact is starting to trickle down onto the high-street,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “This could have a negative impact on the consumer adoption of 5G.”

The more security propaganda which is pumped into the news by the US, the more of a shadow which is cast on 5G. Everyone in the industry is being dragged into the storm of security sceptics; this is what uncertainty and pro-longed umming and erring does. How long will it be before consumers start paying attention? Will this prevent users from upgrading to 5G contracts if all the messaging is drawing attention to security inadequacies?

This is not to say the UK should rush a decision however.

“We don’t want the Government to rush a decision,” said BT Chief Architect Neil McRae at the Connected Britain event in London. “We want them to get it right.”

However, there is going to be a point where it becomes frustrating and causes more damage than good. The longer the review takes, the longer the telcos have to wait before networks can be rolled out and the more controversy which is created around the topic of 5G.

Looking at Ericsson and Nokia, they might well be dragged further into the chaos than they would want to be. During a Science and Technology Committee investigation recently, Nokia’s Steve Sampson and Ericsson’s Mikko Karikyto were asked whether they would be happy to fund a security initiative on par with the Huawei Cybersecurity Evaluation Centre. This is an expense neither would want to make unless forced, but it is a possibility.

This session between the Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia executives and the Committee also demonstrate the point of putting the fear into consumers. During the meeting, Labour MP Graham Stringer compared Huawei to IG Farben, the German firm which manufactured the gas used in Nazi concentration camps. Huawei might well be proven a threat before too long, but this is an exaggerated and unreasonable comparison which achieves nothing more than pompous PR points for the MP in question and further fuels the security myths surrounding 5G.

Huawei might be copping the biggest punches when it comes to security sceptics, but no-one is benefitting in this current state of purgatory.

Out with the old: London Underground’s track renewal works

Alistair McLaughlin, programme delivery manager for Balfour Beatty, and John Lambert, head of track programme for Transport for London (TfL), explore the intricacies of London Underground track renewal works as part of the new Integrated Track Team.

In February 2019, Balfour Beatty was awarded a four-year contract by TfL for the replacement of life-expired track assets across the London Underground network.

The £220m contract award reflects the positive and long-standing relationship between Balfour Beatty and TfL, who have worked together for over 15 years, and further cements the shared priorities of driving safety, reliability, affordability and innovation across London’s underground network.

With five million passenger journeys carried out each weekday, track renewal plays a vital role in keeping the Tube moving at the speed and frequency required to meet the demands of London’s intense train service. In addition, track renewals are essential to support further line upgrades and maintenance, including addressing issues with noise and vibration.

Balfour Beatty has an experienced team who are ready to take on the challenge and are truly connected with TfL’s own workforce. Named the ‘Integrated Track Team’, the Balfour Beatty and TfL workforce will work as one to deliver the project with a joint goal in mind: carry out track renewals in a safe, reliable and efficient manner. At its peak, the project will employ up to 300 staff, including a number of apprentices and graduates to build out the knowledge and experience required by a project of this type.

Balfour Beatty will approach this challenge with a focus on driving innovative solutions that deliver sustainable infrastructure – analysing carbon usage and ultra-low emission fuels – while continuing to reach across the network with the behavioural safety campaign: Making Safety Personal.

It is of the utmost importance to Balfour Beatty and TfL that works are delivered safely, reliably, on time and on budget. With the help of specific and detailed performance measures, the team aim to deliver consistent improvement and innovation whilst controlling costs. To do this, throughout the programme of works, Balfour Beatty will introduce new measures and technologies such as Digital Delivery – a suite of software programmes that automate, create efficiencies and realise sustainability goals – while continuing to safely deliver the highest standard of work and reducing any potential disruption to the travelling public.

Works over the next four years will focus largely around renewing critical assets. With 123 switch and crossing units to be installed, there is a need for in-depth understanding of the underground’s access procedures along with knowledge and experience of the extensive planning required to carry out track renewals with the London Underground engineering train fleet. On top of this, 13km of track and 11km of drainage will also be renewed.

It’s a tough challenge for all: logistically difficult, physically constrained and comes with a potential impact on the smooth running of one of London’s busiest means of public transport. These challenges, however, will be matched by Balfour Beatty’s comprehensive knowledge and unrivalled expertise of the rail infrastructure market. This programme will use the first and only 3D controlled 13T excavator in the UK – a computerised system for excavation, eliminating human error and advancing the grade control process – ultimately bringing largescale construction technology to the subsurface railway, improving quality and accuracy of the work.

Additionally, and with an aim of improving passenger experience, the brand-new use of 4D planning tools will be able to provide greater certainty of programme achievement to time, quality and cost by advancing the use of technology and limiting human error.

John Lambert said: “This is an exciting opportunity to change the way London Underground delivers its track renewals.  This contract seeks to create a strategic partnership with Balfour Beatty focussed on delivering our shared priorities of safety, reliability, affordability, customers and our people.”

Environment Agency showcases plans for next stage of £12m Exmouth tidal defences

The Environment Agency is getting ready to showcase plans for its £12 million Exmouth tidal defence plans.

Exmouth residents and businesses are being invited to catch up with the progress that has been made on the Exmouth tidal defence scheme at a public exhibition at Exmouth Town Hall on 28 June.

Attendees will learn more about planned improvements and construction work to reduce flood risk for 1,800 properties at the drop-in exhibition.

The project, which is being jointly undertaken by the Environment Agency and East Devon District Council, includes new flood walls, ground raising, flood gates and property flood resilience measures along the sea front and estuary-side. The scheme is due to be completed by 2021.

Planning permission for the Exmouth tidal defence scheme was granted by East Devon District Council in January 2019. This was a hybrid application that included outline planning submissions for Morton Crescent and Alexandra Terrace Junction.

On 11 June 2019, full planning permission was granted for Morton Crescent, allowing access to this site for the construction of a new flood wall (on the line of the existing wall) as well as pedestrian flood gates and landscaping.

The plans include a proposal to allow a road to be closed off at one location in storms with flood gates so that lower lying properties inland are better protected from coastal flooding.

Information will also be available about the construction work that has already begun on the Exmouth tidal defence scheme. This includes a new tidal defence wall, which is being built alongside Royal Avenue, together with ground raising within the nature reserve to the north.

Work is due to start in June on strengthening the existing sea wall on the Esplanade as well as new tidal defences in the Camperdown Terrace area.

Ben Johnstone, Environment Agency flood and coastal risk manager for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said contractors had already begun work and he start of construction marked an important step on the way to reducing tidal flood risk from the Exe Estuary in Exmouth.

The £12 million Exmouth Tidal Defence project will reduce flood risk from the current 4 per cent chance of happening in any year to a 0.5 per cent chance of happening in any year for 1,800 properties currently at risk of flooding. The scheme design takes into account the impacts of climate change and sea level rise so the defence can be improved in future years as needed.

Work to resurface nearly 70 miles of roads in Gloucestershire throughout summer begins

Fifteen roads in Gloucestershire will be given a new lease of life when road crews start work on a £5.2million scheme.

It is part of a summer-long project to fix roads and repair potholes that have peppered the county’s road network.

Nearly 70 miles of roads will be given the treatment which uses bitumen and chippings to seal the surface of the road against water and air, which causes damage to the road over time.

In the majority of cases, the road will be closed while the works take place, which will usually be for one or two days, and short diversions will be in place.

Already this morning crews are getting to work on Tyndale Road in Slimbridge with the road closed between Gossington and Halmore.

A diversion is in place via the A38 and Breadstone.

Gloucestershire County Councillor Vernon Smith (C, Tewkesbury East), cabinet member for highways, said: “This surface dressing programme forms part of our ongoing £150million investment to improve Gloucestershire’s roads, and will be the first round delivered by our partners Ringway.

“Surface dressing seals the road surface with bitumen and chippings, and it’s a great way of preventing potholes from appearing, saving taxpayers money in future road repairs.”

Surface dressing is for roads that are nearing the end of their life, but haven’t yet started to fail. You can’t apply surface dressings to roads that have deteriorated significantly, so this means that roads being treated may be in a better condition than some others in the county.

All road markings are repainted soon after the work is complete.

In the majority of cases, the road will be closed while the works take place, which will usually be for one or two days, and short diversions will be in place.

Although the programme is published in advance, work can only be carried out in dry weather, so the schedule may need to change at short notice.

Gloucestershire County Council has advised motorists driving over these routes to:

  • Drive carefully over the new surface and to prevent damage to vehicles
  • Drive at less than 20mph
  • Keep your distance
  • Do not overtake.

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