The government says construction work on HS2 can begin despite the current Coronavirus lockdown measures. Ministers say the UK cannot afford any more delays to the high-speed rail project which is already behind schedule.
The Department for Transport says the decision will be a great boost to the sector, at a time when there’s major uncertainty because of COVID-19. HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson says it’ll “provide thousands of construction workers and businesses across the country with certainty at a time when they need it”. But not everyone agrees. The deputy director of the free-market Adam Smith Institute has called the announcement “tone-deaf” in light of the economic crisis caused by the global outbreak. Matthew Kilcoyne says “we need to get back on to a sustainable financial footing” and “can’t afford vanity projects like HS2”.
Firms involved in phase one construction will have to follow social distancing rules in line with guidance issued by Public Health England to contractors who’ve continued to work during the pandemic. The Department for Transport says a notice to proceed has been given to four joint ventures which will start work immediately. Some of the companies that have HS2 contracts are Costain, Balfour Beatty and Skanska Construction UK. Eamon O’Hearn, national officer at the GMB union which represents HS2 construction workers, says “the overriding priority” must be the safety of the workforce.