This month has seen the government finally giving the go-ahead to Hinckley C, while the airport expansion debate has taken a new twist with Heathrow publishing revised plans. A major redevelopment of the area of central Birmingham featuring the HS2 hub station has been detailed, while the world’s largest offshore maintenance hub is set to be constructed in Grimsby.
The Welsh government has published draft orders for a planned new bypass between Bontnewydd and Caernarfon. The A487 bypass would, if built, be six miles long and help ease congestion in the area. Costing £90 million, the new road would include 22 structures, with seven bridges including one over the Welsh Highland Railway, two viaducts over rivers and four more designed to take existing roads over or under the new bypass. The plans will now go out to public consultation and if there are no major delays or objections to hold up the project, work may begin next year and be completed in late 2019.
A parliamentary committee has recommended that MPs and peers vacate the Palace of Westminster for six years to allow a £4 billion renovation to take place. A report warned that a “catastrophic” event could easily occur in the building, which is now beset by fire hazards, faulty wiring and crumbling roofs and walls, leaks and asbestos. The report advises that moving MPs to the Department of Health buildings and peers to the QEII conference centre would enable the work to be carried out far faster than if members and their staff remained, and at a lower cost.
Bosses at Heathrow have made a fresh bid to make sure they win the race with Gatwick to build a new runway. The revised plan is to abandon the proposed 14-line, 600-metre tunnel that would take the M25 under the runway. This and the abandonment of the airport transit system, as well as a downscaled new Terminal 6, will cut the £16 billion cost to £13 billion. Chief executive of Heathrow John Holland-Kaye commented: “Leaving the EU means that it’s more essential than ever that we create trading links to the growing markets of the world and that Britain controls its own trade routes. “Only expanding Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port, can do this. And it’s an urgent task if we are to action the prime minister’s vision of a strong and fair post-Brexit economy.”
A new report by High Speed Rail Industry Leaders has calculated that the first phase of HS2 will generate 26,500 jobs. It said the majority of these would be in construction and warned that all of them would be lost if the government were to do a U-turn and cancel the project. So far, 14,400 posts have been committed to the project, of which 85 per cent are in civil engineering, but the peak years for activity will be 2017-2020. In addition, between 5,000 and 9,000 apprenticeships will be created, the report estimates. The figures do not include the jobs set to be created by phase two, or those generated by associated investments, such as urban regeneration projects in the vicinity of new stations.
A plan by Peel Holdings for a doubling in size of the MediaCityUK complex in Salford has received planning permission. The £10 billion development will include the construction of more than 1,800 homes, consisting mostly of new apartments, but also incorporating some townhouses. There will also be extra leisure, retail and office space. Salford mayor Paul Dennett said: “Back in 2006, Salford City Council granted planning permission for 15.1 hectares of development. Phase one has successfully been completed and now we are moving towards the second phase, which will see MediaCityUK double in size. “This phase will focus on creating welcoming neighbourhoods where people can live and work, socialise and enjoy events. It’s a very exciting development for Salford.”
Work is starting this month on Spire London, a tower that will be the tallest residential building in western Europe. Located at Canary Wharf, it will be 771 ft tall and contain 861 apartments. A few of these will be affordable as per building requirements, but the building will also contain some top-end penthouses on its highest floors. The project will create 900 construction jobs, with piling beginning in January and the tower due to be completed in 2020.
Birmingham’s HS2 hub at Curzon Street is set to be the centrepiece of a £1 billion investment in the eastern edge of the city centre. The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and the West Midlands Combined Authority will provide funding for 4,000 new homes and 600,000 sq m of commercial space around the station. There will also be investment of £183 million in two new tram lines on the Midland Metro, one of which will link the city centre with east Birmingham, while another line down to Solihull will interchange with the town’s own HS2 station.
The government has finally given the go-ahead for the Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset, which will create thousands of construction jobs. The £18 billion project will be delivered by a consortium including Chinese investors and French firm EDF. Among the details of the deal were an agreement that the government would be able to veto any sale of EDF’s stake before the end of construction. In addition, new legislation will be drawn up to ensure such protections are enshrined in law for future major projects involving foreign money. The project had been set for confirmation in July before prime minister Theresa May, who had just taken office, ordered a review.
Dong Energy has confirmed plans to build the largest offshore windfarm maintenance facility in the world at the Royal Dock in Grimsby. This will provide over 200 jobs and act as a base for a helicopter and two ships that will enable crews to repair and maintain turbines 24/7. The base will serve Westernmost Rough, which is already producing power, and two more windfarms under construction: Race Bank and Hornsey Project One. Head of Dong Energy in the UK Brent Cheshire said the new facility would be “game changing” for the offshore renewables industry. He added that the Danish form will have committed £6 billion to investing in the industry in the Humber region by 2019 and this will not be affected by Brexit.
Oil and gas round-up
The Labour Party has pledged to ban fracking in Britain if it wins the next election. The shadow energy secretary Barry Gardiner said: “Fracking locks us into an energy infrastructure that is based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to clean energy.” Labour’s pledge comes as the first fracked gas from the US has arrived in Britain, and questions will remain about whether Britain will be able to fill the gap with renewables, or continue buying enough gas from overseas as North Sea supplies continue to dwindle. The GMB union is opposed to a fracking ban. It said such a move would cost UK jobs and leave Britain relying on “henchman, hangmen and headchoppers” for its gas – a reference to the situation in Europe, where many countries import gas piped in from Russia.
Oil and Gas UK has called for more North Sea exploration in its annual report. The body has noted that for every new barrel of oil extracted from a new field in the past 12 months, four came from existing fields, a situation it describes as “unsustainable”. The report notes that investment has dropped by 30 per cent over the past two years in response to the drop in oil prices, with 120,000 fewer jobs in the North Sea. However, it also notes that increased capital spending has enabled a rise of nine per cent in oil production to take place in the last year, along with a one per cent increase in gas output.