The next Government must create a Minister for Infrastructure, says Mike Rogerson of WSP. He met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright
IT will never rank among the most romantic highways, but the Leeds inner ring road will always have a special place in Mike Rogerson’s heart.
It’s the road that opened his son’s eyes to the magic of infrastructure projects.
Today, Mr Rogerson is the chief operating officer of WSP in the UK, a company that has played a major role in the £300m re-development of Kirkstall Forge near Leeds. The site of the ancient forge is being turned into a place to live and work.
Leeds-based Mr Rogerson is also involved in a vast array of projects that are bringing jobs and investment to Yorkshire. He remains intensely proud of a project he carried out more than 30 years ago.
He recalled: “My first job was as an apprentice, a highways technician working for West Yorkshire County Council. One of the first projects I was involved with was a highways scheme called Leeds inner city ring road, stage five.
“It was a road improvement scheme that I helped design. Many years afterwards I was driving along the same road with my son, Edward, who was about five at the time.
“I told him that I had worked on this project and he was absolutely awestruck. He couldn’t believe it.
“He said, ‘How did you do that, Dad?’
“Over the years, millions of people have had their journey improved as a result of driving on that road. They’ve been able to get home a little bit sooner to spend more time with their families. Being able to leave that lasting impression on society is really exciting.”
Mr Rogerson is living proof that an apprenticeship can take you to the top. Many Yorkshire residents will have never heard of WSP, but the global professional services firm is responsible for schemes that dominate Yorkshire’s skyline. WSP – which changed its name from WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff last week – has worked, for example, on the £80m Tower Works scheme in the Holbeck Urban Village in Leeds, a site which is now home to fast-growing firms after years of disuse.
The WSP team also helped to achieve planning permission for the landmark Central Square development in Leeds city centre; one of the first high rise schemes in the city to be completed after the global slump.
As a former apprentice, Mr Rogerson is acutely aware of the need to maintain a steady flow of talent into the industry.
WSP already employs more than 440 staff in Leeds, including 63 at Mouchel Consulting, which was acquired in October 2016. Mr Rogerson wants to reach out to a new generation to ensure the firm can keep growing.
“I’m really passionate about apprenticeships,’’ he said. “Our chief executive officer in the UK (Mark Naysmith,) is also a former apprentice, and was sponsored by the company through university.
“Last year, WSP in the UK hired 365 graduates and apprentices. We have got 35 in Leeds alone. We’re really keen to bring in new talent into the industry to create the infrastructure for generations to come.
“We’re working on a schools engagement programme to try and encourage children to get involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects that will then lead into the types of qualifications that we can use to help build this environment.”
WSP is working on improvements to railway stations around the region.
Mr Rogerson believes that HS2, the proposed high-speed rail line connecting London, Birmingham and Yorkshire, will bring major economic benefits to the region.
He added: “We’re hopeful of securing more work on the HS2 programme which is coming to the region at some point in the future.
“We hope HS2 will stimulate the UK plc. Parties of all colour will be backing investment in infrastructure.”
Many business leaders believe that infrastructure projects should be discussed around the Cabinet table. WSP has published a white paper which recommends that the next Government creates a Minister for Infrastructure.
Mr Rogerson added: “We think Government should be clear about their long-term investment plans for infrastructure.
“It’s not just transport infrastructure. It’s energy infrastructure, it’s communications infrastructure, it’s social infrastructure.
“We believe Government should be investing in all these elements.”
Mr Rogerson believes the new brand and company logo will create a powerful sense of unity at WSP, which employs 36,000 people globally following a period of rapid growth.
But the industry needs to spread the word about the merits of big infrastructure schemes.
He added: “We as an industry need to articulate the benefits to the general public. We need to explain why infrastructure projects are so important to growth and the economy.
“Infrastructure is everything. It’s where we learn. It’s how we travel. It’s the things that power the lights in the house. It’s where we go and see movies.”
In the long-term, WSP could help to keep Yorkshire’s lights burning and prevent a repetition of the disastrous floods of December 2015.
“We have a team of people based out at Ferrybridge who carry out really vital work that helps to keep the region’s power stations running,’’ Mr Rogerson said.
“We have teams of people working for Yorkshire Water who are developing schemes to stop people’s homes flooding. We’re keen to get involved in anything that helps society thrive.”