Ashurst scoops lead role on M25 widening project

Ashurst client Connect Plus consortium has reached financial close on the £6.2bn M25 widening project.

The deal, which obtained £1.3bn in financing from a group of 16 commercial banks and the European Investment Bank (EIB), is one of the few large-scale PFI infrastructure deals to close since the onset of the global financial crisis. Moreover, it managed to complete in the current market without Government funding.

Mark Elsey, head of energy, transport and infrastructure at Ashurst, said: “This project has been seen as a bellwether for the UK PPP industry and its successful financial close provides a considerable boost to the PPP sector and to the Government’s commitment to infrastructure development as a means by which to stimulate the economy.”

Connect Plus, which is made up of Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Atkins and Egis Projects, will be responsible for the widening of the remaining three-lane sections of the London Orbital to four lanes in each direction, refurbishment of tunnels and the operation and maintenance of the M25 for a 30-year period.

According to Elsey the consortium did not hold a beauty parade in order to appoint Ashurst as its adviser. “Balfour and Skanska got together and we were told that we were the only
firm that they were both happy to instruct. That was in 2007,” he said.

Elsey was assisted by projects partners Patrick Boyle and Judith Sharrock, with assistance from international finance partner Chris Whiteley and real estate partner Martin Wright.

Denton Wilde Sapte advised the Highways Agency, led by energy, infrastructure and project finance partner Ellen Gates, together with head of project finance Matthew Jones. It picked up the mandate in 2003, having advised the agency on all previous design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) projects.

Up to 200,000 vehicles per day use the sections of the motorway that will be widened, according to the Highways Agency. Work is due to be completed before the start of the 2012 Olympics.

The project has total funding of £1.3bn, including £925m from 16 commercial banks and £400m from the EIB, comprised of £185m direct lending and £215m counter-guaranteed by the commercial banks in the construction period.

The lending group was advised by Linklaters, led by partner Stuart Rowson, with the EIB obtaining additional advice from Slaughter and May.

Pinsent Masons partner Graham Alty advised Skanska Balfour Beatty on its construction contract, while Berwin Leighton Paisner partner John Hughes-D’Aeth advised the Connect Plus operations and maintenance sub-contractor – a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering, Atkins and Egis

This major PFI project follows the closure of Britain’s biggest waste project – the £640m Greater Manchester Waste PFI – with advice from Addleshaw Goddard, Ashfords, Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Eversheds, Linklaters, Lovells and Pinsent Masons (20 April).