Construction workers have been given the green light to start work on the HS2 high-speed rail link, providing they abide by Public Health England guidance.
HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said that “we cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level up the country”, and formally issued a ‘notice to proceed’ to the companies involved in the design and construction of the new railway.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had already confirmed in February that the project should go ahead, after it had been subject to an independent review by renowned civil engineer Douglas Oakervee into its viability.
The government has advised that construction work can go ahead where social distancing guidelines (keeping two metres apart) are followed and workers take further precautionary measures such as more regular handwashing, working in smaller teams and not mixing crew members on different shifts.
Last month HS2 announced that it had paused work on the majority of its sites as coronavirus measures required that all non-essential construction work come to a standstill.
Stephenson said: “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 Main Works Civils Contractors who were awarded the work: SCS Railways; Align JV; EKFB JV; and BBV JV. All are joint ventures working through both large and small construction and engineering companies.
Phase one will link up London and the West Midlands.
HS2 estimates that phase one alone will create 400,000 “supply chain contract opportunities for UK businesses”, supporting thousands of jobs across the country, with two-thirds of opportunities going to SMEs.
Mark Thurston, HS2’s CEO said the announcement was an “immediate boost” to the construction industry in difficult times.
“HS2 has been over ten years in development and design. 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.”
Tony Gates, managing director at Sir Robert McAlpine, one of the companies involved in the Align joint venture, added: “The notice to proceed is, of course, welcome news not just for Sir Robert McAlpine, but for the country as a whole. This is an investment not just into vital infrastructure, but into the creation of thousands of jobs for UK workers. The skills and experiences those working on the project will pick up will be hugely important for helping tackle future engineering challenges.
“As we tackle an ambitious plan, which includes a landmark viaduct and twin-bored tunnel, we have an opportunity to not just demonstrate the technical excellence that marks out this country’s construction sector, but also the seamless collaboration between parties required to deliver Europe’s largest infrastructure project.”
Once operational, it’s estimated that the link will create 500,000 extra jobs and 90,000 homes around HS2 stations. The main routes will link London with stations in the Midlands, Leeds and Manchester, and there will be additional HS2 services on lines to Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool.