Thursday, 23 May 2019

Future of HS2 project uncertain amidst Tory turmoil

Construction News often sends me well informed articles and I think this one, received yesterday, is of particular interest:

The government confirmed earlier this week that HS2 would continue, despite a damning House of Lords economic committee report.

However, as I write this, rumours abound that the prime minister's position is uncertain once again, in the wake of another attempt to sell her EU withdrawal deal to MPs.
Unfavourable results for the Conservatives in tomorrow's European Union parliamentary elections, where the party is polling fourth according to some surveys, will just add to the pressure.

And the implications on construction could be profound.

A YouGov poll for The Times found that 57 per cent of Conservative Party members believed HS2 should be scrapped, with 32 per cent believing it should continue.
Given that these voters will likely choose the next prime minister, the future for the largest infrastructure scheme in Europe doesn’t look positive.

At least £5.5bn has already been spent on the project and firms involved have lined up workers and equipment for the works.

Bookies' favourite Boris Johnson, who announced last week he would put his name in the hat for a Tory leadership vote, is openly against HS2.

Last year Mr Johnson told The Times: “There are transport projects we should have in the north of the country that ought to take precedence over HS2.

“It’s crazy how long it takes to get east-west across the country.”

Another potential Tory leader, Andrea Leadsom, told the cabinet last year that HS2 presented poor value for money and the funding would be better spent elsewhere.
But not all leadership front-runners are opposed to the £56bn scheme.

Secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock is understood to have given his backing to the delivery of HS2 on the condition that there is investment in east-west transport links in addition to high-speed line.

Former Brexit minister Dominic Raab, whilst not clearly for or against HS2, is believed to want to assess if the project is value for money for the taxpayer.

And with the rumours swirling against the prime minister, the prospect of another Tory leadership contest is rising. What's certain is that the next inhabitant of Number 10 will have immense power over HS2's future.

Last week, Balfour Beatty said the workforce they had setup for its Old Oak Common station contract would be redeployed or made redundant if works didn't start soon.
If the next leader re-establishes confidence in the project, support should be parallel with a clear start date to the main civil works. 

If it were cancelled, it would be a huge blow for this industry but the money set aside for HS2 must be used on alternative infrastructure projects, which would allow the firms investing time into HS2 the ability to win work elsewhere.
Caroline Wadham, reporter, Construction News

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