Predictions that project will spearhead off-site manufacturing and new technologies

Industry bigwigs have welcomed the move by MPs to back a third runway at Heathrow, saying it will be an acid test of UK contracting’s mettle post-Brexit.

Mark Farmer, chief executive at Cast and author of an independent review into the capacity of the construction industry, said not only did parliament’s decision to back Heathrow’s expansion “mark a major milestone in what has been a long running saga” it presented the construction industry with an opportunity to deliver a project “in a fundamentally different way”.

He said: “Heathrow Airport’s delivery team have recognised that Britain’s construction industry does not have the capacity to deliver such a major infrastructure project in a conventional way.

“With major skills shortages already visible throughout the sector and further concerns of labour shortages post-Brexit, one only has to look at the tell-tale signs showing at the labour intensive tail-end of the Crossrail project. Ongoing labour force problems, cost escalation, schedule delays and question marks over quality are all evident and do not bode well for Heathrow.

“That is why Heathrow’s ambitious plan to deliver a significant proportion of the construction in four remote ‘logistics hub’ locations across the UK is a real game changer for major UK infrastructure. It plays to the government’s wider Industrial Strategy ambitions of rebalancing economic growth across the country, it will create new manufacture led construction supply chains, it will massively improve productivity, reduce site waste and will reduce the perennial risks associated with traditional on site delivery.”

David Whysall, managing director of Turner & Townsend, said the project was an “opportunity to positively disrupt the UK construction sector”.

He added: “It’s an opportunity to challenge the way we have delivered infrastructure in the past and forge a new sustainable industry model – one which provides a legacy of new skills in digital, manufacturing and off-site assembly, with expertise formed throughout the construction supply chain, and shows that the UK is a world leader in setting up and delivering major projects.

“Successfully delivering the third runway will not only boost our capacity for international trade, but prove the worth of the UK infrastructure sector as a desirable export on the international stage.”

But Al Watson, head of planning and environment at Taylor Wessing, said the importance of the yes vote should not be blown out of proportion.

He said: “Monday’s vote in the Commons reminds us that having a policy that says yes to a third runway does not build anything at all. Not one block of hardstanding gets laid. Previous policy support, right back to 2003, has come and gone, and no concrete has magically appeared.

“Even with the yes vote in the Commons, the next lap of this heated and gruelling battle is already set for the High Court come the autumn with four local authorities, the competing Heathrow Hub scheme, and the Mayor of London and Transport for London all lining up for a shake down. On top of that, the airport and airlines won’t agree on a budget, and the surrounding communities won’t give up the opposition fight.”

Matthew Riley, managing director at Ramboll, said the fact the project was still up in the air despite being OK’d by parliament showed why major infrastructure decisions should not be made by politicians alone.

He said: “The National Infrastructure Commission need to be given more power to influence long term plans, as the current approach provides little reassurance to investors, who we will rely on to finance these investments.

“Going forward, it is essential that the government now provide full and consistent backing for this important addition to UK infrastructure.”

Jolyon Brewis, partner at Grimshaw, the architect who designed the new scheme, said: “We believe that this expansion is needed, and that it will be delivered with careful regard for its impacts on local communities and the wider world. Grimshaw is proud to be part of a team designing an expanded Heathrow that will set new benchmarks for innovation and sustainability in airports.”

Despite getting the approval of the Commons, the scheme is expected to face a series of legal challenges before ever getting off the ground.