Controversial HS2 to invite bidders to manage £32bn rail link

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The Independent Online

The Government is steaming ahead with plans for the controversial high-speed railway between London and Birmingham despite fierce opposition across the country.

The Department for Transport, together with the company High Speed Two Ltd (HS2), have drawn up documents to ask engineering conglomerates to pitch for the job of development manager of the entire project.

HS2, chaired by Rob Holden, the ex-Crossrail boss, was set up by the Government in 2009 to prepare for the project. By early September, HS2 will call for bids from global engineering firms. Mott MacDonald, Arup, US giants Bechtel and CH2M Hill are likely to consider bids to manage the £32bn project.

A HS2 source said the job "is akin to the work Bechtel did on Crossrail before their appointment as programme partner". It is usual practice to hire project managers for preparatory work even though the Government has not given formal approval.

The new line – a Y-shaped high-speed link from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – has caused controversy because of its cost and fears for the countryside.

The Government is still consulting interested parties, including the public; they have until this Friday to make their views known.

However, the fact that the Government is looking for bids, suggests that the project will go ahead despite vocal opposition. Earlier this month, the Institute of Economic Affairs think -tank labelled it a "recipe for disaster", an "economically flawed" scheme that will require a contribution of around £1,000 from each taxpayer.

Residents opposing the plans have formed an action group called Stop HS2. But supporters claim their main motivation is self-interest.

Susan Elan Jones, the Labour MP for Clwyd South in Wales, said: "As a representative of a Welsh constituency, I know that members from other parts of the United Kingdom feel this too – I am not prepared to see HS2 delayed on the grounds of pure and simple nimbyism."

The first phase of the London to Birmingham stretch is planned to open around 2026, followed by a link to Manchester and Leeds in 2032.

Although the link, with trains travelling up to 155mph, will cost £32bn, the Government argues it will generate benefits of around £44bn, with revenues totalling a further £27bn.

Earlier this month the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers, said: "Network Rail predicts that the line will be pretty much full by 2024. That saturation point could come earlier.

"If we fail to provide the capacity we need, we will significantly hinder economic growth and worsen the north-south divide. No government can afford to sit back and ignore that."