Sir David Higgins has insisted speeding up construction of HS2 by three years will not put greater risk on contractors.
He said it would also ensure greater certainty for the supply chain.
The HS2 chairman urged the government to start work on the project’s northern links to Manchester and Leeds as soon as possible and insisted both phases should be completed by 2030, three years earlier than planned.
Under Sir David’s proposals, the first phase of HS2 would run 43 miles further north than originally planned to a new hub station in Crewe, bringing benefits to the north six years early.
Speaking to Construction News, at the launch of his report HS2 Plus, he said: “We are giving greater certainty for the supply chain because [they will have] line of sight of what will be 15 years of construction work.
“That’s the whole reason we are doing this; to save costs and give industry the certainty that contracts are going to happen.”
By speeding up construction, he argued, three years of inflationary pressures and overheads would be saved.
“There is no implication that we are trying to push the industry to take greater risk”.
He said he was a “massive believer in much earlier engagement of supply chains”.
Commenting on the report, Skanska chief executive Mike Putnam said: “There’s plenty of time in the planning stage – [HS2 needs to] put the time in with the development, design and execution of the scheme and couple it with a good procurement solution.”
Under existing plans, work on phase one of HS2 between London and Birmingham is scheduled to start in 2017 and will open in 2026. Phase two, split into an eastern and western leg to Leeds and Manchester, is not scheduled to open until 2032 or 2033.
Following Sir David’s recommendations, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin will scrap the proposed £700m link with HS1.
HS2 Ltd and Network Rail will be asked to develop new proposals for the redevelopment of Euston and a new hub at Crewe.
Sir David called for a revamp of Euston station, HS2’s London hub, which would involve the private sector building the station from property development funding.
Adonis slams political “dither and delay”
Former Labour transport secretary Andrew Adonis said politicians must stop the “dither and delay” over HS2.
Lord Adonis said a Labour government would have got to this point on HS2 within 18 months.
He said: “The challenge now is for government to put the HS2 bill to vote so that the legislative process gets under way. The government now needs to give a firm date as soon as possible for the second reading of the hybrid bill.”
Once passed, the act would secure powers to build and maintain the first phase of HS2 from London to Birmingham, which is planned to start construction in 2017.
He insisted the £21.4bn allocated for phase one, with £3bn for trains, including contingency, was sufficient.
He said he had “resisted temptation” to reduce the large contingency contained in the budget due to uncertainty around the project’s legislative timetable and added that the same approach should be taken for the second phase of the project, which has been budgeted at £25.7bn including trains and contingency.
Pinsent Mason partner Patrick Twist told Construction News Sir David was “entirely right not to offer hostage to fortune and say ‘I can cut the costs’”.
KPMG UK head of infrastructure Richard Threlfall said it was “entirely remarkable and hugely encouraging” that he had refused to lower the cost of the budget.
He also said the Labour Party would be under pressure to commit to the project after Sir David’s pledge to keep it within the £50bn threshold – the amount above which shadow chancellor Ed Balls insisted it could not rise.
Speaking to Construction News, incoming HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby said Sir David’s report was “sensible and pragmatic” and built up confidence that the project would be delivered within budget.
Mr Kirby said: “My intent is really to listen to the market. I think HS2 is a fantastic way to change the way we deliver infrastructure and really build on some of the things that people have talked about on major infrastructure programmes.
“So, I’m really keen to understand different views on that and come up with a procurement strategy that enables that to happen.”