Omega Seminar Series 2013


From Nothing to a Major Urban Centre in 40 Years: An incremental approach to infrastructure development – The case of the Louvain University Town near Brussels

Pierre Laconte, Sometime Secretary General of ISOCARP

16th January 2013

Forced to leave the historic university town of Louvain (Leuven) the French-speaking Université de Louvain decided to create a new town, as opposed to a campus. The University therefore bought ca 1.000 ha agricultural and forest land at 25 km from the centre of Brussels: the central part was set aside for urban development, the forest land being preserved. The overall master plan and architectural coordination was entrusted to the Groupe Urbanisme- architecture (R. Lemaire, J-P. Blondel and P. Laconte). The masterplan was designed for uncertainty. The first phase of development started in 1972. From 1976 an underground railway station was put into service and a multi-use slab was gradually constructed. A major breakthrough was the opening in 2005 of a shopping and leisure centre to cover the rail tracks (8 million visitors in 2011). The entire centre is pedestrian. The pedestrian option was taken to save land and front transport infrastructure investment. A linear pedestrian central spine – inspired by the University of Lancaster – allows a step by step mixed urban development, automobile access to buildings and parking being placed outside of the spine, with occasional underpasses. All open-air parking spaces are planted with different tree species in order to attract different kinds of birds. They have become an ornithological reserve. All storm water is collected to an artificial lake that serves as reservoir and amenity.

The land remains property of the university while the infrastructure and buildings are leased (leases of up to 99 years) to public and private investors). High-density low-rise buildings with interlocking courts and piazzas replicate the university colleges of traditional university towns.

The development of the rail station as head of one of the Brussels S-Bahn lines is generating a specific challenge: combining transit pedestrian movements, park & ride and local residential development, besides the university development.

‘London Crossrail – Megaproject as Keyhole Surgery

Professor Michael Hebbert, Bartlett School of Planning, UCL

30th January 2013

With blue hoardings and construction diversions marking its route all across the capital from Heathrow to the Thames Gateway, the east-west Crossrail is Europe’s largest construction project. Its planning history goes back 150 years to the origins of the Underground.

Michael Hebbert charts the shifts and turns of this long-delayed megaproject, highlighting the Canary Wharf factor, and looks forward to the completion of the Crossrail and the insertion of its stations into the urban fabric of the capital.

Northeast High Speed Rail Project in the US and its environmental impact

Robert Ravelli, Private Consultant

20th February 2013

The Northeast of the USA from Washington, DC to Boston, Massachusetts passes through 9 States and contains 17% of the US population on just 2% of its land area. Passenger rail service in the Northeast Corridor is the busiest part of the Amtrak system with the most frequency of service and the highest speeds. However, it still does not match the high speed rail of European services such as Eurostar and TGV.

The Federal government, affected States and Amtrak are exploring how to invest in the Corridor over the next 20 to 30 years to bring it up to 21st century high speed standards. This talk will describe the current state of the rail service and describe the current plans and projects that will transform the corridor over the next decade or more as well as highlight the challenges facing the project. The redevelopment of t New York’s Penn Station, a key piece of the Corridor will also be discussed.

The Lagos Blue Line: Developing Nigeria’s first Metro as a PPP Concession

Michael Schabas, First Class Partnerships Limited, London

27th February 2013


Infrastructure Project and Politics

Jay Jayasundara, Former Executive Secretary to the Prime Minister

6th March 2013

Project appraisal is mainly a political process and not a simply computational exercise. International examples show that especially major infrastructure projects are likely to deliver the full range of agent of change benefits only when they are accompanied by a suitable and permanent institutional, policy and legislative frameworks throughout the project lifecycle. Jay Jayasundara’s presentation will attempt to describe critically the fundamental relationship between decision-making on infrastructure projects and politicians.

How to Stop a Megaproject: Heathrow’s Third Runway

John Stewart, HACAN

24th April 2013

The successful campaign to stop a third runway at Heathrow will be taken as a case study. The strategy to stop the third runway came out emerged from lessons learnt from past failures: to stop terminals four and five. The strategy contained four key elements:

  • the formation of coalitions
  • challenge the economic arguments put forward for the third runway
  • putting forward alternative solutions, such as rail
  • running a visible, high-profile, pro-active campaign

The talk will outline each element of the strategy and will show how they combined to stop the third runway at Heathrow. It will then look at the impact of the failure of the 3rd runway to be built on the aviation industry, on government and on campaign movements across Europe.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel: delivering 21st century wastewater infrastructure for London

Ian Fletcher, Planning Projects Manager, Thames Tideway Tunnel

1st May 2013

Running from Acton in west London to Abbey Mills Pumping Station in east London, the proposed Thames Tideway Tunnel is a deep storage and transfer tunnel aimed at increasing the capacity of London’s 150-year old sewerage system. Currently, sewage discharges into the River Thames via combined sewer overflows (CSOs), on average 50 times a year from the overloaded system. That’s enough sewage to fill the Royal Albert Hall 450 times.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel will address this by capturing the overflows from 34 of the most polluting CSOs in London, as identified by the Environment Agency. The sewage would then be transferred to Beckton Sewage Treatment Works, via the Lee Tunnel (currently under construction). The main tunnel will be approximately 25km long and have an internal diameter of 7.2m. It will broadly follow the route of the River Thames, starting at a depth of 30m and descending to 70m. The proposed construction will take place on 24 preferred sites across 14 London boroughs. Once constructed, the system is expected to reduce to number of overflows to a maximum of four times a year. It would also allow the UK to comply with the EU’s Urban Waste Water Directive whilst ensuring London remains a world-class city, business centre and tourist destination. The entire project is expected to take between six and seven years to complete and cost an estimated £4.1 billion (2011 prices, excluding inflation).

Public participation in major transport infrastructure planning: Aarhus Convention, open data and HS2

Ralph Smyth, Campaign to Protect Rural England

22nd May 2013

Investing in major transport infrastructure is increasingly seen as the path out of recession and economic stagnation. Particularly for those communities directly affected, moves to accelerate construction seem, however, to fly in the face of the coalition Government’s localism agenda and commitment to involve local people in decisions. While the Aarhus Convention has in the UK led to rights to environmental information and most recently reduced the cost for judicial review of decisions, its provisions on effective public engagement remain largely forgotten.

The talk will consider ways to improve process and outcomes, whether by learning from other countries or new technology. It will consider, for example, whether the open data agenda is the key to improving engagement at the macro and micro levels – such as considering the validity of long-term official forecasts or the likely impact on house prices.

Mega Transport Projects: Political champions and the media

Christian Wolmar, Journalist

5th June 2013

Planning barriers to delivering Major Infrastructure in the UK

John Rhodes, Director of QUOD (planning consultancy)

25th September 2013

Complexity, Megaprojects and Infrastructure Development Risk?

Prof. Patrick Godferry, Bristol University