Major transport infrastructure projects Contents


37.The NIC welcomed the National Infrastructure Strategy but stated that the Government must focus on outlining how the strategy will be delivered.69 The Department currently has 24 major projects in the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP) with a total budgeted whole-life cost of £115.5 billion.70 Although the Department’s Outcome Delivery Plan stated that 82% of its projects on the GMPP are on track to delivery, only seven of the Department’s projects are ranked as either “green” or “amber/green” on meeting their expected whole-life cost and delivery timescale in the Infrastructure and Project Authority’s Annual Report on Major Projects.71 The delivery of major transport infrastructure projects could be substantially improved by avoiding cost overruns and project delays. In that context, we note the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s publication of ‘Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030’.72

38.The NAO identified recurring problems in four key dimensions of the appraisal and delivery process: first, defining and retaining clear scope for a project; secondly, developing a realistic plan for delivery that recognises precise cost and schedule estimates; thirdly, efficiently managing interdependencies; and, fourthly, creating transparent systems for governance and oversight.73 Informed commentators from both the private and public sectors highlighted those factors as critical to ensuring the successful delivery of major transport infrastructure projects.74 The Secretary of State for Transport explained that the Department is “working with the implementation and delivery unit across Government … looking at how to improve delivery and accelerate the sharing of insights from across Whitehall”.75 To that end, the Department examined the conclusions of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s delivery transformation board.76

Case study: A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down

39.In 2020, the Government approved plans to construct a two-mile road tunnel near Stonehenge.77 The tunnel is part of National Highways’ scheme to overhaul eight miles of the A303, creating a new dual, two-lane carriageway between Amesbury and Berwick Down.78 Campaigners launched a legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision to grant consent for the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme.79 In July 2021, the High Court ruled that the Secretary of State for Transport acted unlawfully when he approved the project, upholding two of the 10 grounds submitted.80 The ruling rested on the Secretary of State’s failure properly to consider alternative schemes and to address the effect of the scheme on each individual asset associated with Stonehenge. A consequent Order of the High Court quashed the development consent for the proposed A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme.81 This case shows how litigation can delay major transport infrastructure schemes.

40.Delivering major transport infrastructure projects quickly minimises costs, decreases disruption caused by construction and allows local communities to benefit from links sooner. We note that the Government announced Project Speed and that the Department set up the Acceleration Unit to increase the pace of project delivery.82 However, the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy was not accompanied by a detailed delivery plan.

Case study: Crossrail

41.Crossrail is a major transport infrastructure project. It involved the construction of a suburban passenger service running across London from west to east. The project was approved in 2007, and construction began in 2009.83 Crossrail was scheduled to open in December 2018, but the current estimate for full opening has slipped to mid-2022.84 Crossrail will cost £18.25 billion, more than £2 billion over budget.85 Although the work on the 26 miles of new tunnels was completed in 2015, the project has experienced software problems with the new signalling system.86 At the same time, work on the Bond Street and Whitechapel stations took longer than planned.87 Major transport infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail, involve more than heavy engineering, such as tunnelling. Crossrail illustrates the virtues of a joined-up, system approach to delivery in preventing delays and increases to project costs.88 The Government and its delivery agencies must ensure that digitisation and system delivery are factored in at the start of major transport projects and not at a stage when failure can, as Crossrail demonstrated, cause delays and cost overruns. Important lessons can be learned from Crossrail to inform future major transport projects. In that context, the Crossrail Learning Legacy programme is a positive example of the collation and dissemination of good practice and lessons learned.89


42.Government Departments are responsible for the management of individual major projects. Pledging to deliver too many ambitious projects will spread scarce departmental resources too thinly, resulting in delays and cost overruns. In February 2021, the Institute for Government found that “central Government Departments have capability but capacity is stretched”, including in the DfT.90 The Institute for Government concluded that the DfT’s central analytical teams are overstretched, which “limit[s] their ability to contribute fully to policy making”.91 In particular, the evaluation and transport modelling teams have limited ability to contribute across the Department.92 The report asserted that “without greater capacity, policies and projects will either be delayed or will proceed without the benefit of analysis and evaluation”.93 Such capacity limitations are a barrier to the Government’s objectives of “levelling up” the country to tackle regional inequalities and of achieving net zero.

43.Ensuring the UK workforce has the transport construction skills that major transport infrastructure projects require is key to delivering those projects on time and to budget. Witnesses told us that developing a long-term programme for infrastructure projects allows companies to plan ahead and invest in developing the required skills for a project in its early stages. Institution of Civil Engineers fellow Jonathan Spruce explained that because the UK did not have a long-term plan for electrification of the rail network, skills “disappeared from this country” and as a consequence “restarting that programme was really difficult”.94 He added that an infrastructure “needs assessment” will be key to industry for “getting people of all shapes, sizes, genders and ethnicity ready to deliver the infrastructure we need to deliver a net carbon future”.95

44.Infrastructure and Projects Authority chief executive, Nick Smallwood, explained that although there is “sufficient capacity [to deliver major transport infrastructure projects] in the near term”, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and a resulting reduction in private sector projects, a shortfall in key craft, engineering, leadership and project management skills is expected in the “middle of the decade”.96 The National Infrastructure Strategy set out a long-term outline of priority projects, which allows companies to plan relevant training and apprenticeship programmes for project delivery. However, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority warned that without investment in apprenticeship schemes and training programmes, the UK “will run into difficulties and resource shortfalls” that will make delivering the ambitions in the National Infrastructure Strategy “quite a challenge”.97

45.Ensuring the UK’s construction capabilities are modernised will be key to delivering projects to time and cost. Mr Smallwood told us that the UK infrastructure sector has “languished” compared with other sectors in the UK that have modernised and digitised.98 He explained that the infrastructure sector could harness the potential of modern construction methods. Digitising and modernising working practices would potentially improve productivity by decreasing construction times.

46.Crossrail utilised Building Information Modelling (BIM) to “generat[e], build and manag[e] data through the life of the project”.99 BIM incorporates physical, environmental and commercial data “on every element designed for Crossrail”.100 Crossrail stated that it hoped to use BIM to expedite delivery and to drive design innovation in the construction industry. Crossrail asserted that long-term cost savings can be realised through the BIM model “by providing accurate information that can be handed over to the operators of the railway for managing Crossrail’s assets post-completion.101

47.The DfT’s director general of corporate delivery, Nick Joyce, explained that the transport sector is adopting new working models to improve digitisation. He cited National Highways’ adoption of a rapid engineering model.102 The model involves developing the initial design stages for a project, such as a new road, through machine learning. Mr Joyce explained that that “takes the initial design phase down from months to weeks”.103 He highlighted that

“the people who … came up with that idea were not engineers or designers; they were data analysts and machine learning folks. It was bringing those skills in from different sectors and combining them with the engineering expertise that started to give examples where real benefits flow”.104

48.Skills also risk being lost if programmes are subject to a “start-stop” approach. Rolling programmes allow for skills to be retained. For example, the Rail Industry Association previously warned the Committee that skills and experience may be lost if there was a delay in the electrification of the rail programme.105 This view was supported by Network Rail.106

Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy

49.The Department for Transport stated that it will refresh the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy (TISS), first published in 2016, by the spring of 2021.107 In September 2021, the refreshed TISS has still not been published. The updated plan will cover apprenticeships and outline how employers can support people to upskill in priority growth sectors such as construction.108

50.The DfT’s director general of corporate delivery Nick Joyce stated that the Department had made “a huge investment in further skills in the core Department in the last two years”, including creating “a central portfolio office headed by a portfolio director, and three further project directors are responsible for major programmes”.109 He added that the Department has a series of project delivery skills and development programmes, including for senior responsible owners’ accreditation systems. He concluded that although the Department has “done a lot”, “we still have more to do. The portfolio continues to get bigger and more complex”.110

51.The refreshed TISS must be published as a priority to provide a strategic lead on the development of the key construction and management skills required to underpin the Government’s broad infrastructure strategy. The Secretary of State for Transport told us that the updated TISS will be published as a discussion paper “later in the year”.111

52.A discussion paper is an insufficient response to the challenge of ensuring that the UK has the skills to deliver the Government’s ambitious infrastructure agenda. A detailed skills strategy is required. As part of the refresh of the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy, the Department must develop a future skills plan in consultation with public and private sector employers to identify and address skills gaps that might delay major projects. Such a strategy should be accompanied by a financial commitment from the Government aimed at addressing specific skills gaps, such as in transport engineering and project management, through apprenticeships and training programmes.

53.To ensure that the National Infrastructure Strategy supports (a) the “levelling up” agenda, (b) achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and (c) economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic, the Government must publish by 25 November 2021 a delivery plan setting out how its transport infrastructure commitments will be implemented to support the National Infrastructure Strategy.112

69 Q2 [Ms Rosewell]

70 Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Annual Report on Major Projects 2020–21 (July 2021), p 10. Of the 24 projects that are led by the Department for Transport, 22 are Infrastructure and Construction projects and two are Transformation and Service Delivery projects.

71 Department for Transport, Department for Transport Outcome Delivery Plan, July 2021; Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Annual Report on Major Projects 2020–21 (July 2021), p 43–46

72 Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030 (September 2021)

73 National Audit Office, Lessons learned from Major Programmes (November 2020)

74 Jacobs, Major Programmes: Lessons Learnt 10 years on from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (December 2020); Q4 [Mr Spruce]; Q26 [Mr Smallwood]; Q39 [Lord Hammond]; Q51 [Lord Hammond]; Q60 [Lord Hammond]

75 Q191 [The Secretary of State for Transport]

76 Ibid.

77 National Highways, A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down (March 2019)

78A303 Stonehenge (Amesbury to Berwick Down)”, National Highways, Accessed on 6 September 2021

81 Ibid.

83Europe’s biggest railway infrastructure project”, Crossrail, Accessed on 20 September 2021

84 The National Audit Office, Crossrail—a progress update (July 2021), p 4; “Crossrail project update”, Crossrail, Accessed on 20 September 2021

85 The National Audit Office, Crossrail—a progress update (July 2021), p 4

86 The National Audit Office, Completing Crossrail (May 2019), p 6; The National Audit Office, Crossrail—a progress update (July 2021), p 8

87 The National Audit Office, Completing Crossrail (May 2019), p 16

88 Q38 [Mr Meggs]

89Learning legacy themes”, Crossrail, Accessed on 20 September 2021

90 Institute for Government, How governments use evidence to make transport policy (February 2021), p 58

91 Ibid.

92 Ibid.

93 Ibid.

94 Q31 [Mr Spruce]

95 Q32 [Mr Spruce]

96 Q4 [Mr Smallwood]

97 Ibid.

98 Ibid.

100 Ibid.

101 Ibid.

102 Q180 [Mr Joyce]

103 Ibid.

104 Ibid.

105 Transport Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2019–21, Trains fit for the future?, HC 876, para 48

107 The Department for Transport (MTP0045) para 90

108 Ibid.

109 Q191 [Mr Joyce]

110 Ibid.

111 Q190 [The Secretary of State for Transport]; Q192 [The Secretary of State for Transport]

112 The National Infrastructure Strategy was published on 25 November 2020. 25 November 2021 is one year on from this date.

Published: 29 September 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement