Full speed ahead for High Speed 2 as Chancellor opens £11.8bn bidding process

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will today announce a major new milestone for the government’s High Speed 2 rail project, kick-starting the bidding process for phase one of the mega construction project. At least seven new contracts will be opened up to companies, with a total combined value of £11.8bn.

The Chancellor will make the announcement at an event in Chengdu, China, aimed at wooing some of China’s biggest investors to be part of the project as well as a raft of other major UK infrastructure projects. Mr Osborne is also expected to announce a new ‘HS2 partnering day’ between British and Chinese firms to explore joining up on bids for contracts, as well as launching the Northern Powerhouse pitch book.

The event is part of a wider five day tour of China by the Chancellor aimed at deepening cooperation between the two countries and making China the UK’s second largest export market.

HS2 forms a major part of the government’s plan to rebalance the UK economy and build a Northern Powerhouse by providing high speed rail services from London to the Midlands, and the North. Construction of phase one is due to start in 2017, and when opened will slash the travel time between London and Birmingham from 1hr 21min to 49min. Work is also underway on developing plans to transform East-West rail links.

Speaking while travelling on part of China’s vast network of high speed railways the Chancellor said:

“This government is committed to rebalancing our economy and building a Northern Powerhouse, and improving transport links and launching HS2 is key to supporting long-term economic growth across the North and Midlands.

“That’s why I’m here in China today opening the bidding process for construction contracts worth £11.8bn, which will propel HS2 forward.  We are truly entering a golden era of cooperation between our two countries, and it’s crucial that businesses and communities from across the UK feel the full benefit of forging closer economic links with China.”

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

“HS2 provides an excellent opportunity for businesses across the UK with 25,000 jobs created during construction and 3,000 when up and running. The start of the procurement process for these significant contracts is a major step towards construction on HS2 getting underway in two years’ time and a massive opportunity to help rebalance our economy long before the trains start running in 2026.”

HS2 Ltd Chief Executive Simon Kirby said:

“The start of the civil engineering bidding process is a major milestone for HS2 as we continue to move towards the start of construction in 2017.

“Over the next decade, the winners of these contracts will go on to build 230km of bridges, tunnels and earthworks and create thousands of jobs across the construction industry. Together we will transform intercity rail travel in the UK, build specialist skills and expertise across the country, create at least 2,000 new apprenticeships and build a legacy to inspire the next generation of young engineers.”

The government is currently organising an ‘HS2 partnering day’ to give Chinese companies an opportunity to meet UK firms and establish potential partnerships to join up on bids. The Chancellor is also inviting Chinese participation in the HS2 skills college, which is due to open in 2017. A skills-swap programme would allow the UK to benefit from China’s expertise as a world leader on High Speed‎ Rail, and help Chinese investors better understand the UK market.

The Chancellor is also encouraging Chinese companies to take part in an HS2 ‘regeneration tour’, which would involve visiting areas of huge commercial opportunity in London, the Midlands and the North. Investors would have the chance to meet with relevant local authorities and visit station sites.