Savings identified in cost-reduction drive may be able to rescue major infrastructure projects

An investigation into how to bring down the costs of civil engineering projects in the UK could be used to save major projects from the axe in the government’s autumn comprehensive spending review (CSR).

Former Arup chairman Terry Hill, who was this week appointed to head the investigation, said the initial findings of the review would feed into the CSR in October and any major savings could be used to justify keeping projects alive.

Hill said: “The timetable is to come up with some initial findings of how much might be saved from civils projects to feed into the numbers for the autumn CSR.”

He added that if the investigation identified how and how much savings might be made to civils costs, it might allow chancellor George Osborne to fund more projects than otherwise would have been the case. Reducing the cost by just 10% could potentially save £40bn a year, he said.

Hill, who led the development of the channel tunnel rail link at Arup, refused to say exactly how much more expensive civil engineering projects were in the UK than in continental Europe, but anecdotal comments suggested they were anything between 50% and 100% dearer.

He also issued a call for the industry to provide evidence to the investigation via a reference group being set up to handle submissions. Peter Hanford, the senior vice-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, will head the reference group and is shortly to write to civils contractors and engineers asking for their input. Hill said: “We want to bring in everyone who might want to have a say.”

The investigation, which will report fully at the end of the year, is designed to find out both why civils project are more expensive in the UK, and what can be done about it. Hill said its scope would cover the entire construction and commissioning process, from planning until it becomes operational. It will look at how to change the design and construction of civils projects and whether clients could specify and procure projects to with greater efficiency.