‘We cannot delay’: government’s formal go-ahead for HS2 work to begin | Business News

The government has formally given the go-ahead for HS2 construction work to begin saying the UK cannot afford further delay to the rail project.

It said the work could proceed in line with guidance issued by Public Health England to contractors continuing to operate during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department for Transport said the formal notification to proceed provided a boost to the sector at a time when it faces major uncertainty due to the outbreak – though one think-tank called the timing of the announcement “tone deaf”.

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.”

HS2 will run from London to the West Midlands and then on towards Leeds and Manchester

The announcement follows the decision in February by the prime minister to proceed with the project – after years of delay and a review warning that its cost could spiral to £106bn.

The line had been due to open in 2026, but it could be another ten years before it opens in full.

Mr Stephenson said: “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 issued by the government means that four joint ventures awarded contracts on the project can move from carrying out scheme design and preparatory work to detailed design and construction.

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HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston said: “In these difficult times, today’s announcement represents both an immediate boost to the construction industry – and the many millions of UK jobs that the industry supports – and an important investment in Britain’s future.”

Preparatory work at some HS2 sites remains paused following a review launched last month of what operations can be carried out in accordance with coronavirus guidance.

This includes ensuring a minimum distance between all personnel of two metres, having facilities for regular hand washing and single occupancy of all vehicles unless agreed in advance.

But HS2 Ltd said the four joint ventures will “start work immediately” on detailed designs, site preparation work and issuing sub-contracts.

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

Free-market think-tank the Adam Smith Institute called the timing of the announcement “tone-deaf”, with the economy taking a battering from the lockdown – and with some firms also seeing the benefits of video conference working that obviates the need for long-distance journeys.

Deputy director Matt Kilcoyne said: “We’ve got an economic crisis that’s going to cost taxpayers billions.

“We can’t afford vanity projects like HS2. We need to get back onto a sustainable financial footing.”

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