The case for HS2 is strong, but successful delivery will depend on investing in the right cost and project management skills - not to mention getting cross-party concensus

Alan Muse

HS2 has huge potential to drive economic growth across the UK. Quicker, easier and higher levels of people and goods being transported will, in turn, increase the movement of money around the UK.

There are, of course, many challenges with a project of this size and RICS appreciates the need for ongoing political and industry debate. However, if delivery costs are kept down through proper management, supported by cross-party consensus, the considerable long-term benefits of HS2 can be realised.

At RICS, we believe the business case for HS2 comes down to capacity. Much of this debate so far has focused on passenger numbers, with many putting projected demand figures, and therefore the Department for Transport’s (DfT) argument, into doubt. However, with 519 million tonnes of imports entering UK ports each year, it is the movement of these goods across the country that is the real issue.

According to DfT figures, only around 9% of goods are transported on railways with a staggering 60% clogging up our roads. The small percentage of goods being moved by rail is down to the logistical issues of passengers and freight using the same line. So providing a faster alternative to passengers will free up the rest of the line for freight and ensures more efficient and greener transportation of goods.

Lord Berkeley, chairman of the Rail Freight Group, has dismissed this argument, saying HS2 would clog the system by not linking properly with the rest of the network. However, it is not an either-or scenario. HS2 can be - and should be - delivered alongside repair and maintenance projects across the existing rail network and wider transport system. Furthermore, the £42.6bn currently budgeted for HS2 is unlikely to be invested in other innovative projects to modernise our transport network if it does not go ahead.

The £42.6bn budgeted for HS2 is unlikely to be invested in other innovative projects to modernise our transport network if it does not go ahead

This is a particularly worrying in regards to the UK’s standing on the world stage. As a global body, RICS has a perspective on the commercial property requirements of world business leaders who expect fast and efficient transport in their hub locations as a given. Without high-speed connections, international, and indeed domestic, companies simply won’t look north of London, making HS2 vital to increased investment in the regions.

There are a great number of financial, technical and resource challenges that need to be overcome if HS2 is to be a success. However, RICS believes that HS2 can meet its targets through correct investment in the right techniques and skills for effective business, cost and project management. This must start with the use of new procurement models that enable earlier supply chain engagement, including discussions with SMEs, which ensures an informed client approach. We are also working with the industry and Cabinet Office to help streamline the procurement process and make it more accessible and straightforward for all companies looking to tender.

The procurement process should also focus on instructing firms that are competent with information modelling and data benchmarking through new technologies such as BIM and techniques including RICS’ New Rules of Measurement. By measuring accurate and reliable construction and cost data, which can be shared across each stage of the project and during operation, we can reduce costs across the entire life of HS2.

We would also urge for a separation of business management from design. Such a separation of the roles ensures an overview from a professional trained specifically in the running of large-scale infrastructure projects.

However, none of this will be possible without cross-party consensus. Continued political warring will only lead to delays and subsequent waste in resources. This is why RICS is calling on all three major parties to reach an agreement on HS2 within this parliament. We hope the result will be a united vision for HS2 that makes use of the skills and technology required.

Alan Muse is director of built environment at RICS