The Government has kicked off the bidding process for some £11.8bn of contracts for phase 1 of the £50bn HS2 programme.
The first stage of the bidding process is in the form of a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) for main civils works including the surface route and tunnels for phase 1 – running from a revamped London Euston to a new station at Birmingham Curzon Street.
Suppliers can express an interest in one or all of the seven contract packages on offer however following the PQQ, successful applicants can only bid for a maximum of four packages at tender stage, with a maximum award of up to two contracts per tenderer.
The seven contracts are split between the North, Central and South areas, while further contracts for HS2’s phase 1, under tranche 2 deals covering stations, and tranche 3 schemes involving railway systems, will be launched in 2016 and 2017.
Chancellor George Osborne made the announcement on a trade visit to China as part of attempts to woo foreign investment in the project.
‘Launching HS2 is key to supporting long-term economic growth across the North and Midlands. That’s why I’m here in China opening the bidding process for construction contracts worth £11.8bn, which will propel HS2 forward, he said.
‘We are truly entering a golden era of cooperation between our two countries, and it’s crucial that businesses and communities from across the UK feel the full benefit of forging closer economic links with China.’
Additional contracts covering HS2’s phase 2 north of Birmingham will be released subject to ministerial decisions later in the year.
However longstanding opponent of the project Conservative MP, Cheryl Gillan, said the launch of even the first phase contracts was 'premature'.
She told the BBC: 'The [HS2 Hybrid] Bill has not finished its way even through the House of Commons. Certainly the very earliest it could get Royal Assent - because it has also got to go through the House of Lords - would be the back end of next year.'
'I wonder whether this still is a priority for Government considering that they have cancelled other very important projects in the North such as the Midlands electrification. And I still worry about the stability of this project because we still don't know what the new-complexion Labour opposition is going to do.'
Construction of phase 1 is due to start in 2017, and when opened will slash the travel time between London and Birmingham from 1 hour 21 minutes, to 49 minutes.
In attempts to win Chinese investment the Government is also trying to organise a HS2 ‘regeneration tour’ for firms to tour London, the Midlands and the North as well as a partnering day ‘to give Chinese companies an opportunity to meet UK firms and establish potential partnerships to join up on bids’.
Mr Osborne is also inviting Chinese involvement in the HS2 skills college, due to open in 2017.