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Architecture Tomorrow - transport buildings

A wealth of opportunities to design prestige projects will arise out of the Conservatives’ policy of investing in transport infrastructure to drive regeneration, says Denise Chevin

The return of David Cameron to No 10 gives the green light for fresh investment in Britain’s creaking transport infrastructure.  This should create opportunities for architects, particularly in the associated regeneration that new roads, rail and airports bring in their wake. And quality of design will be a key criterion, as evidenced by the appointment of dRMM’s Sadie Morgan, president of the Architectural Association, to ensure every visible aspect of HS2 is functional and pleasing to the eye.

With the  Tories returned to power, their policy of using infrastructure investment to drive the economy will continue.  The Coalition bought into construction industry-commissioned research claiming that every £1 spent on infrastructure boosted overall economic activity by £2.84. Instead of spending to repair the social fabric of run-down areas, transport initiatives became an engine of regeneration.

For example, a £55 million loan has been offered to support the extension of  London Overground to Barking Riverside in the hope it might kickstart the construction of 11,000 homes. As Aecom’s head of public sector, John Hicks ,observes: ‘It’s now accepted that infrastructure is an economic generator.’

The National Infrastructure Plan, another Coalition innovation, points to £466 billion coming down the track to 2021 and beyond, of which £142 billion is transport-related projects across 129 programmes.  These include £15 billion in new roads and £38 billion being spent by Network Rail to upgrade track and stations, as well as commitments to transformational projects such as Crossrail, phase one of which is due to complete in 2018, and HS2, phase one of which is due to start construction in 2017.

BDP, for one, expects more opportunity in the transport sector, particularly in the North, where its Manchester office is busy on projects relating to the Northern Hub.

Meanwhile in London we can expect lobbying for Crossrail 2 to go into overdrive to ensure it does not lose out to northern investment. A case is also being made for an extension of the Bakerloo Line in South London.  Then there is of course a huge expansion at either Gatwick or Heathrow – but we have to wait until the summer before Howard Davies concludes his report to find out which.

New infrastructure is a catalyst for so much else. Noble Frances, economist at the Construction Products Association, points to the retail and commercial space around new transport hubs. Philip Watson, Atkins’ design director, points to four schools the practice is working on as a spin-off of design work around Old Oak Common in  West London, where a vast  HS2 station is to be constructed by 2026.

Another element for architects to cheer is the importance now being placed on good design in the transport sector. ‘Projects like Crossrail and Birmingham Cuzon station (pictured) are primarily engineering jobs, but it’s the way they’re designed that provides the joy, flair and excitement the public has come to expect,’ says Aecom’s John Hicks.  ‘Look at the transformation of Heathrow T2 – they are no longer just sheds with coffee shops.’

Of course, plans are one thing, delivery another. Gestation periods can sometimes extend way beyond their promised term. But there’s undoubtedly something exciting in the air, and architects should relish the chance to design public projects in the grand Victorian tradition.

Denise Chevin is a freelance writer and built environment consultant

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