The government has thrown the civil engineering sector a lifeline by issuing a formal notice to proceed on phase one of the long delayed HS2 project.
It’s good news for civils among the gloom of the coronavirus crisis, with four major contracts worth £12bn finally being signed off. Work can now start immediately, within Public Health England guidelines to ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of the workforce. Progressing detailed design, placing subcontracts and site preparation work has all been greenlit as a result of the government’s decision with an obvious multiplying effect for jobs in civil engineering.
The four main consortia can now transition from the design and preparatory phase to construction, creating thousands of jobs in the process.
Costs and benefits
The announcement came after an uncertain few months for the HS2 project which is now up to five years behind schedule with costs spiralling from £62bn to £88bn.
However, as Transport Minister Grant Schapps pointed out in Autumn 2019, there is no point in obscuring the true costs of such a vast infrastructure project, or its potential benefits. After the phase one announcement, HS2 Ltd CEO Mark Thurston was quick to point out the potential boost for the construction industry as the 9,000 workers currently supported by the project looks set to expand exponentially in number.
He called it an important investment in Britain’s future and a step towards the government’s election pledge to level up the country and improve the transport network. As the UK continues to face the Covid-19 pandemic, issuing a formal notice to proceed signals the confidence that contractors have in their supply chains' capabilities to commit to the HS2 project.
The creation of thousands of skilled jobs as the country emerges from the pandemic will be a welcome boost to the economy amid predictions of an imminent global economic depression as a result of lockdown policies.
Certainty for business
The UK has often relied upon its construction industry to build Britain out of trouble and the notice to proceed will have created the kind of certainty that drives investment in building skills and capability for future generations, according to Leo Quinn CEO of Balfour Beatty Group.
Main construction is slated to start in earnest in the second quarter of 2021 with a predicted peak workforce of over 8,000 creating much needed jobs in civil engineering. Balfour Beatty will also offer 400 apprenticeships plus opportunities in construction for new graduates. Another of the Big Four consortia, Skanska, predicted that its contract alone would lead to the creation of over 6,000 jobs in the joint venture, with the majority being created in the supply chain.
Kickstarting the economy
The news is extremely positive and couldn’t come at a better time for a country that is still working out its post-corona future. HS2 is an example of the type of large scale infrastructure project that can both restart the economy and reinvigorate the construction industry, placing civil engineering back at the core of the nation’s future and proving transformational for UK business and construction.