Grant Shapps: HS2 will ‘connect country like never before’ as construction gets underway

4 September 2020, 00:01 | Updated: 4 September 2020, 10:43

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said HS2 will "connect our country like never before" as construction on the controversial transport project formally gets underway.

The high-speed railway project is set to create 22,000 jobs and will establish vital links between urban areas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Speaking with LBC's Nick Ferrari, Mr Shapps defended the £106 billion project starting construction as the country braces itself for financial uncertainty due to the ongoing impact of coronavirus.

"We're building this for the long term, we're not building this for the next six months or next year, which is vey well because it won't be built by then.

"When it is ready and operating I am pretty certain that if you look at the four per cent increase in passenger numbers on the west coast mainline year on year, it absolutely will be required and it's going to connect our country up like never before."

There will be a "shovels in the ground moment" later today as the project officially gets underway, which Boris Johnson will be attending.

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The prime minister said: "HS2 is at the heart of our plans to build back better - and with construction now formally under way, it's set to create around 22,000 new jobs.

"As the spine of our country's transport network, the project will be vital in boosting connectivity between our towns and cities."

The four main contractors for Phase One between London and the West Midlands will from today switch from enabling works, scheme design and preparatory work to full construction, following months of reports about delays.

Boris Johnson is expected to attend a "shovels in the ground" event marking the formal start of HS2&squot;s construction
Boris Johnson is expected to attend a "shovels in the ground" event marking the formal start of HS2's construction. Picture: PA

Last year, the government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned the final bill for the project could reach £106 billion at 2019 prices.

The prime minister gave HS2 the go-ahead in February 2020, despite it running tens of billions of pounds over budget and being several years behind schedule, and two months later ministers gave the green light for it to enter the construction phase.

Part of Mr Johnson's decision included giving the transport scheme a revised budget and schedule.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed Friday's event "marks a major milestone in this government's ambitions to build back better from Covid-19".

He went on: "Shovels in the ground to deliver this new railway means thousands of jobs building the future of our country's infrastructure.

"This fantastic moment is what leaders across the North and Midlands have called for - action to level up our country by boosting capacity on our railways, improving connections between our regions, and spreading prosperity."

Read more: Eddie Mair challenges rail spokesperson over huge HS2 budget

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Construction for HS2 will commence with some of the biggest engineering challenges - such as building stations and tunnels - followed by the erection of viaducts and bridges.

Most activity this year will be focused on the scheme's city centre stations and major construction compounds such as in Old Oak Common, west London and Calvert, Buckinghamshire.

HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said: "This is a hugely exciting moment in the progress of HS2. After 10 years of development and preparatory work, today we can formally announce the start of full construction, unlocking thousands of jobs and supply chain opportunities across the project.

"We are already seeing the benefits that building HS2 is bringing to the UK economy in the short term, but it's important to emphasise how transformative the railway will be for our country when operational.

"With the start of construction, the reality of high speed journeys joining up Britain's biggest cities in the North and Midlands and using that connectivity to help level up the country has just moved a step closer."

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