The Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend that “Notice to Proceed” on building HS2 has been delayed again to December 2019.
Notice to Proceed is a key marker in the building of HS2: as HS2 Chair, Allan Cook, explained to the Transport Select Committee in March, it enables contracts to be let as well as construction to begin:
“It means that we can actually then let the contract for the main construction works that need to go on in phase 1. Getting approval for the notice to proceed means that we can let contracts with our main suppliers, to ensure that we deliver the programme against the schedule we are committed to.”
But this is just the latest delay to construction. Originally due to begin in 2017, construction was subsequently delayed to November 2018, then March 2019, June 2019 and now December 2019.
The original delay was because the Phase 1 Bill was two years behind schedule in getting Royal Assent. However the most recent delays have been in the desperate hope of finding ways of cutting costs from the £56 billion project.
As discussed at the TSC, there are three main tests that HS2 has to pass before Notice to Proceed can be given: management capability, affordability of contracts and robustness of the revised business case. Contracts for the track and overhead system works, the tunnels and the lineside mechanicals won’t be awarded until after Notice to Proceed has been given. In a letter following the evidence session, Cook explained that a full Business Case for HS2 has to be published before Notice to Proceed, and a revised version is expected “before the end of the calendar year”.
This has not stopped the HS2 Ltd from causing mayhem and environmental damage, or Government ministers from claiming that “building has started”.
In a Freedom of Information Request as to what was meant by HS2 Ltd explained
“By building work HS2 Ltd means all works associated with the building of the new railway. This means that (for example) survey work, ground investigations, demolitions, utilities works, road and traffic management works are al included within that term.”
This is at odds with the Department for Transport, who had previously been issued with a similar FOI request who confirmed that construction has not actually begun:
“Major construction work on the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project has not yet started. The minister was referring to the significant enabling works that are underway. Enabling works include survey work, ground investigations, demolitions, utilities works, road and traffic management works which are essential before Phase 1 construction can commence and are providing employment and contracts for people across the UK.”
While we obviously welcome delays to construction, Stop HS2 are extremely concerned about the environmental damage, with hedges being netted, trees cut down, and the countryside being dug up. With construction itself not able to proceed for many months, and massive question marks as to whether HS2 will be built at all, we think that these enabling works should be cancelled, at least until the date for Notice to Proceed is clearer.