Mace and Aecom among firms to warn PM against scrapping HS2 leg

Sixty-three business leaders have called on the prime minister to commit to the completion of HS2’s eastern leg in full, amid speculation the route to Leeds could be scrapped. An open letter, from the heads of construction, rail and engineering at firms including Mace, VolkerWessels and Aecom, has warned Boris Johnson that his levelling-up plans are at risk if the line from Birmingham to Leeds is not built. It has been reported[1] that the section of phase 2b could be scrapped in order to save money on the project.

More information about its aims are set to be published in the long-delayed Integrated Rail Plan, details of which have alarmed the business leaders with suggestions the leg could be delayed, curtailed or mothballed. The letter, organised by the High-Speed Rail Group, and also signed by the heads of companies including Keltbray, Systra and SSE Contracting, said: “The eastern leg, we shouldn’t forget, is the part that turns HS2 from a project that simply alleviates congestion on the West Coast Mainline into one that transforms the connectivity of much of Britain. It is the eastern leg that connects Yorkshire, the North East and the East Midlands into HS2.

It is not an add-on to the project – in fact you might argue it is the most important part of it.” The firms pointed out that businesses have already invested millions in people, skills and technology to deliver HS2, with an expected jobs boost at risk if the leg does not go ahead. They also called on Johnson to speak to regional government leaders in those areas about the project, adding: “As you will know, those very regions were critical to your victory at the last general election.

And it is the communities in those regions who will be most let-down should the leg not move forward.” The letter also warns that further debate and changes to the scope could add further costs: “Having taken the decision to deliver it in full, changing that now would have a devastating impact on confidence in the sector and drive higher costs as other elements would have to be redesigned,” it said. In comments to mark the first anniversary of HS2 construction beginning[2], transport secretary Grant Shapps said the project has gathered “unstoppable momentum”.

However Construction News reported last week[3] that HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston and rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris had warned the Treasury is looking to save money in its upcoming Spending Review after the financial hit from the pandemic. The Sunday Mirror reported claims in August[4] that the line set to run between Birmingham and Leeds will be cut to save GBP40bn. West Midlands mayor and former Oakervee Review panellist Andy Street had earlier said that local transport developments, including the Midlands Rail Hub, were more important for the region[5] than the eastern leg of HS2 phase 2b.

Street backed the government’s decision to focus on the western leg of phase 2b, from Crewe to Manchester, over its eastern one. Phase 2b was given a red “unachievable” rating by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority in July[6]. A Westminster Hall debate on scrapping HS2 is due to be held later today, after an online petition reached enough signatures to trigger the MPs’ discussion.

The debate does not affect the legislation for the project.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”

References

  1. ^ been reported (www.constructionnews.co.uk)
  2. ^ comments to mark the first anniversary of HS2 construction beginning (www.constructionnews.co.uk)
  3. ^ Construction News reported last week (www.constructionnews.co.uk)
  4. ^ The Sunday Mirror reported claims in August (www.constructionnews.co.uk)
  5. ^ more important for the region (www.constructionnews.co.uk)
  6. ^ red “unachievable” rating by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority in July (www.constructionnews.co.uk)