I’m on a train to London, so I’ve got some time to finally catch up with a bit of blogging. As anyone who’s been following the news will have seen it’s been a busy week for Hs2. Firstly, £6.6bn of Civils contracts were awarded. Balfour Beatty’s joint venture with French firm Vinci won two contracts worth £2.5bn. They’ll design and build the Long Itchington Wood Green tunnel to the Delta Junction/Birmingham Spur plus the section from the Delta Junction to the west coast main line near Lichfield in Staffordshire. Vinci has previously been involved in the high-speed Tours-Bordeaux rail project in France.
Contracts worth nearly 2bn to build Euston Tunnels and Approaches and the Northolt tunnel were won by a joint venture between Sweden-based Skanska, Austria’s Strabag and UK firm Costain, which has worked on Crossrail and the Channel tunnel.
Two more packages, worth a combined total of £1.34bn for the North Portal Chiltern Tunnels to Brackley and Brackley to South Portal of Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel went to a Carillion / Eiffage / Kier joint venture. Carillion have been in the news, recently, so this attracted media attention.
Other companies to have won HS2 work are the joint venture between French construction group Bouygues and UK firms Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick. They claimed a £965m contract for the Colne Viaduct and Chiltern tunnels package.
A story planted in the press the day before as a spoiler, claiming Hs2 would cost £111bn caused a predictable furore from the usual suspects, so it’s worth bearing in mind that in the tender, the estimated range for these contracts was from £7.1-11.8bn. Of course, what will happen now is a year of detailed design work before the contract target cost is set.
Later in the day the Government announced that the phase 2a Hybrid Bill had been deposited in Parliament. This bill will begin its passage through the Houses, with the intention of Royal Assent in 2019, allowing construction to beginning 2020.
It’s worth remembering that – despite the claims from antis that Hs2 is ‘late’, this section has been brought forward several years, from 2033 to 2027!
The Phase 2b Hybrid Bill is expected to be with Parliament in 2019, with Royal Assent being granted in 2022. To this end, Monday afternoon saw Transport Minister Chris Grayling announced his decision on the final route choice (link). Unsurprisingly, it confirmed that Meadowhall had been dropped in favour of a more Easterly route and that Sheffield would be served by a loop, with trains running through Chesterfield. The change appears to be for several reasons. The Hs2 design panel had already expressed concerns over the viability of Meadhowhall on space, cost and technical difficulty. What appears to have tipped the balance was the growing influence of Transport for the North (TfN) who have developed ambitious plans to ensure the North’s major cities (including Sheffield) would be within 30m journey time of Manchester Airport. The route change will allow greater integration and connectivity with the future Northern Powerhouse rail (aka HS3). Of course, the fact the change will save an estimated £1bn will have made the idea attractive too!
A minor change to the route in Leicestershire around Measham has seen a third option adopted with a minor deviation off the 2013 route. This should render MAPA, the local StopHs2 ‘action’ group redundant, although to be honest, they were doing very little post-consultation anyway!
The reaction from those opposed to Hs2 showed just how ineffective they are nowadays. Hs2aa haven’t made a sound. In fact, if you look at their website, you wouldn’t know anything’s happened since April! StopHs2 trotted out Joe Rukin to do the usual round of splenetic ‘rent a quote’ interviews, but it’s all rather pointless. What’s been very telling is how few of Stophs2 followers are engaged with them nowadays. Despite having several thousand ‘followers’ on social media, only a handful are passing on the message though retweets and shares. Here’s an example…
Predictably, Twitter was full of people jumping on the bandwagon to offer their opinions about Hs2 for a couple of days. These ranged from the ignorant to the batshit crazy, along with Hyperloop supporters and the folk to whom the NHS is everything. None of it will make the slightest bit of difference of course as they’re simply individuals sounding off about something, they’re not a campaign. As for an ‘organised’ Stophs2 campaign, that’s essentially history. Stophs2 is two people, the most prominent of which is Joe Rukin. Local sources tell me that Joe’s been looking for a (real) job for some time now. Chair Penny Gaines lives in the SouthWest nowadays and does very little. When Joe goes – that’s it…
All this activity means that Hs2 will be featuring in the news a lot from now on several fronts. There’s the construction of phase 1, the Parliamentary process of phase 2a and the consultations and environmental assessments of phase 2b.
Talking of phase 2b. The pictures not looking too rosy for those trying to Stophs2 on that section of the route. With the collapse of the national groups they’re on their own and (in typical Yorkshire style) they seem to spend as much time arguing between themselves as they do trying to stop Hs2! The supposed merger between the Trowell and Erewash groups appears to have hit the rocks as people backpedal. The announcement of the final route will see others breathe a sigh of relief and step away, leaving them even thinner on the ground. Hopefully, the residents who’re genuinely affected by Hs2 will ditch the rabble rousers and political opportunists and start trying to get what they can out of Hs2 Ltd in the form of mitigation and compensation for their communities. Whilst their MPs support building Hs2, there’s no doubt they also want to get the best for the communities they serve. I wish them well in doing it.