HS2 construction works to begin despite coronavirus lockdown
- Credit: Victoria Jones/PA
Ministers have given the go ahead for HS2 to enter the construction phase despite lockdown measures.
HS2 Ltd, the government-owned company developing the high speed railway, was given approval to issue a notice to proceed to firms contracted to design and construct bridges, tunnels, embankments and viaducts for phase one between London and Birmingham.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for HS2 in February despite the government-commissioned Oakervee Review warning the final bill could reach £106 billion at 2019 prices.
The route will run to and from a new terminus at Euston station, where works are due to resume on April 20, and also through a major new station at Old Oak Common.
HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said the government’s main priority is combating the spread of coronavirus but “we cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level up the country”.
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He went on: “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.”
HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said the decision gives “an immediate boost to the construction industry” as it ensures contractors and their supply chains can have “confidence that they can commit to building HS2”.
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The UK’s construction industry employs more than two million workers and produces about 6% of the country’s total economic output.
Many building sites, such as those developing Crossrail, are closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown, while some are open with fewer workers than normal to comply with social distancing guidelines.
Eamon O’Hearn, national officer of the GMB union, called for rigorous standards to protect workers.
He said: “GMB wants to protect workers’ jobs, health and pay. HS2 is a project of national importance but the safety of its workforce and supply chain must be the overriding priority.”
Phase one of HS2 was due to open in 2026, but it could be 10 years later before full services operate.
Passenger trains between Old Oak Common in west London and Birmingham Curzon Street are due to start running between 2029 and 2033, with the line extended to London Euston between 2031 and 2036.