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HS2 construction phase triggered by formal Government approval

The Government has issued a “notice to proceed” on contracts for Stage 2 of HS2, meaning that the construction phase of the £106bn rail project can now begin.

With the construction sector facing uncertainties during the coronavirus outbreak, the move is partly an attempt to shore up confidence in construction companies and the wider supply chain supporting HS2.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for HS2 to proceed in February, after years of to-ing and fro-ing in Parliament and ballooning budgets for the project.

In 2011, HS2 was initially estimated at having a budget of £32.2bn. By 2015, this figure was revised upwards to £56bn. The total anticipated cost now sits at £106bn - nearly three times the original budget and expected to rise further.

HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said: “While the Government’s top priority is rightly to combat the spread of coronavirus, protect the NHS and save lives, we cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level up the country.

“HS2 will be the spine of the country’s transport network, boosting capacity and connectivity while also rebalancing opportunity fairly across our towns and cities.

“Following the decision earlier this year to proceed with the project, this next step provides thousands of construction workers and businesses across the country with certainty at a time when they need it and means that work can truly begin on delivering this transformational project.”

The notice to proceed has been given to the four joint ventures previously awarded main works civil contracts, which means they can transition from the designing phase to construction.

The contracts have a total value of £12bn and cover the design and construction of bridges, tunnels, embankments and viaducts for phase one of HS2, which will run from London Euston to Birmingham.

HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston admitted that the announcement has come during “difficult times”, but said it would be an “immediate boost” to the construction industry and the jobs it supports.

“HS2 has been over 10 years in development and design,” he said. “While the country’s focus is rightly on defeating Covid-19, the issuing of notice to proceed today ensures that our contractors and their supply chains have the confidence that they can commit to building HS2, generating thousands of skilled jobs across the country as we recover from the pandemic.”

Preparatory work at some HS2 sites had been paused following a review of which operations can be carried out in accordance with coronavirus guidance. HS2 Ltd said that the four joint ventures will now “start work immediately” on detailed designs, site preparation work and issuing sub-contracts.

The high-speed rail line was due to open in 2026, but it could be 10 years later before it opens in full.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, said the announcement was “great news” for the UK railway industry.

“HS2 is a truly transformational project for UK plc, its national economy and connectivity and gives a boost to the whole UK rail network, adding capacity to a number of key routes, benefiting towns, communities and cities across the whole country.

“It will also create thousands of jobs and spur investment - at a time when the UK will be looking at how it can recover economically from this coronavirus outbreak - so the Railway Industry Association and rail suppliers around the UK greatly appreciate this exciting news.”

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