Leading on infrastructure locally and globally

thumb-large-5 Pinsent Masons Partner Adrian Eakin explains how the roll-out of super-councils can boost infrastructure development in Northern Ireland, helped by the firm’s global expertise.

Think of major infrastructure projects and your mind is likely to wander somewhere outside of Northern Ireland. While we do have a handful of scattered capital projects including the new hospital project in Enniskillen, the sports stadia in Belfast and a renewed activity in the commercial property sector, too many of our proposed infrastructure projects are kicked to touch, slowed down in a quagmire of funding restrictions, planning delays or simply as a casualty of the lack of political agreement.

The A5 road remains firmly on the drawing board while the multi-purpose centre at the Maze site hasn’t even got that far. The economic benefits of a roll-out of such infrastructure projects are clear. They provide an immediate boost to the construction sector during the build period and can help the region as a whole to more effectively compete for inward investment and tourist spending.

The slowdown in the Northern Ireland pipeline does not mean that the ability to drive forward major projects doesn’t exist locally, and the Belfast office of Pinsent Masons has become established as a centre of excellence within the global legal Firm. Partner Adrian Eakin is national head of the firm’s market leading infrastructure projects team across its eight UK offices, and advises government bodies, lenders, consortia and contractors on major infrastructure schemes in a range of sectors including water, waste, education, transport, ICT and health.

This year, the firm won an array of awards including Global Construction Law Firm of the Year, Energy and Natural Resources Team of the Year and PPP Legal Adviser of the Year.

Adrian describes how that expertise and experience has been applied locally and beyond Northern Ireland: “During the boom years in Northern Ireland, we advised the Strategic Investment Board and bidders on virtually every major capital project including the new South West Hospital, a number of Belfast schools built through the Strategic Partnering PPP scheme and other landmark projects such the building of the new Invest NI Headquarters in Bedford Street.

“We are currently advising bidders on the roll out of the Primary Care Programme, arising from the major changes in healthcare delivery signalled by the Transforming Your Care Programme, and we continue to work closely with the sole bidder on the arc21 residual waste project which will eventually manage the waste from 11 local authorities in the east of Northern Ireland.”

The build-up of that specialist knowledge has effectively made Adrian and his Belfast team the specialists within Pinsent Masons on major infrastructure projects.

“In recent years, we have expanded our team to work in markets outside Northern Ireland and also to effectively create a ‘centre of excellence’ within Pinsent Masons so that Belfast is regarded as the most effec-tive resource for such legal and strategic advice within the firm,” Eakin says. “Our team is working on some exciting and challenging infrastructure projects in partnership with international construction firms such as Balfour Beatty, Galliford Try, Eon and Kier on schemes throughout the UK, Ireland, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.”

thumb-large-7 While Adrian’s role as head of the infrastructure team means spending a significant amount of time in the Middle East and elsewhere, he still lives in Belfast where he is also vice chair of the CBI Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Policy Committee and has been named as Northern Ireland’s leading infrastructure lawyer for the last 10 years running by the Chambers UK Legal Directory, an independent guide to the legal profession which bases its findings on interviews with clients and competitors across the market.

Adrian believes that the potential remains in Northern Ireland for the roll-out of a capital build programme, with the emergence of the 11 new ‘super-councils’ unlocking the door to the possibility of innovative funding streams.

“The size and population of Northern Ireland, along with the budgetary constraints,” he explains, “has meant that the pipeline of projects locally has slowed down. However, there is a convergence of factors at the present time which may unlock opportunities for major projects to be taken forward in the near future. The local government review and the transfer of some significant powers to the new councils creates a new dynamic.”

Eakin adds: “In England, we work with local councils which have delivered some very significant infrastructure deals in circumstances which are similar to that which new super-councils will face from 2015 onwards. This has involved the use of Local Asset Backed Vehicles (LABVs) whereby a public sector body creates a corporate entity with a private sector partner. The council provides the land while the developer provides the cash which unlocks the potential to undertake major schemes, effectively using the land as equity in order to pursue a regeneration programme. It is a tried and tested model which delivers for all sides. The public sector can generate movement on much needed physical development while the private sector is able to plan on a long-term basis, knowing there is a schedule of projects backed by the public authority. Both partners can share in the return generated which can be re invested by the council to facilitate and support continued regeneration.”

Pinsent Masons advises Croydon Council, one of the largest boroughs in London, which in partnership with developer John Laing established the Croydon Council Urban Regeneration Vehicle which has brought to life a range of key sites across the borough, based on the LABV structure. These have included housing projects, leisure centres, retail developments, health centres and indeed a new council headquarters, all assisted on the legal side by the Belfast team of Pinsent Masons.

Just last month, Pinsent Masons rounded off a remarkable period in its history with the official launch of prestigious new offices at the Waterfront area of Belfast, bringing vibrancy and energy to a part of the city which was for too long stagnant. Adrian Eakin says the positive impact it had on what is emerging as a ‘legal district’ shows the benefits that infrastructure projects can bring. He is looking forward to the possibility of a similar impact being made across Northern Ireland.

“Our new councils are likely to be examining a range of options for unlocking the potential to develop their own area. The fact that this joint public-private partnership has worked successfully in England sets a marker for what can be achieved locally,” he remarks. “Our councils will have the same powers and many of them sit on banks of land which can readily be transformed into projects which benefit communities and rate-payers. The new councils will be looking for opportunities to develop new infrastructure projects and while they will spend some time bedding down, devising and agreeing local community plans, it is important that these opportunities are identified and acted upon. Where there is good practice elsewhere from which we can learn, and adapt, then we should do so. Next year could feasibly be the kick-start for infrastructure development across Northern Ireland.”

Adrian can be contacted as follows:

Pinsent-Masons-433 Pinsent Masons Belfast LLP
Soloist
1 Lanyon Place
Belfast BT1 3LP
Tel: +44 (0)28 9089 4853
Email: adrian.eakin@pinsentmasons.com

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