MPs’ vote in favour of expansion at Heathrow Airport is a significant and welcome step forward for one of our most important national infrastructure projects. Our sector has now fixed its attention on an arguably more complex question: are we ready to deliver such an ambitious programme?

David Whysall

By David Whysall, managing director of UK infrastructure, Turner & Townsend

The question is valid. Rarely does a week go by without headlines highlighting the structural challenges we face in the UK construction industry and confidence is correspondingly low.

However, there are a growing number of reasons to be optimistic and Heathrow expansion may well be chief among them. We need Heathrow expansion to disrupt the construction sector and it shows every sign of doing so.

Heathrow has committed to off-site construction on a significant scale. It plans to embrace standardised, repeatable, component-led design which is so effective at driving productivity in the manufacturing industry.

Is it possible?

This will require investment in new skills and technology, something Heathrow plans to deliver in part through its logistics hubs programme, working with local authorities, corporates and SMEs to create four centres for offsite manufacture and, in turn, a legacy of modern construction skills in UK regions.

Heathrow Airport

The Heathrow Airport of the near future is likely to be more than just a transport hub

To achieve this, Heathrow is engaging the marketplace early. It has recognised that it needs a world-class supply chain to deliver the expansion, and this means greater collaboration, coordinating investment in our national capabilities, and reshaping the traditional construction business model.

Through these commitments and others, Heathrow is seeking to show that the UK’s largest privately-funded infrastructure project can overcome previous inertia and set a higher global standard for the delivery of major infrastructure.