The UK government is in discussions with a Chinese company who have offered to build England’s HS2 rail link for “tens of billions” less than the forecast £106 billion – and in just five years compared to the expected 15-20 years.
Boris Johnson finally gave the controversial HS2 project the go-ahead this week and today’s Financial Times reports China’s offer also promises faster trains and increased capacity, according to a letter sent by China’s rail company to HS2 Ltd’s chief executive last month.
The China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) “raised the prospect” of HS2 hitting top speeds of “420km/h, versus the maximum 340km/h currently envisaged” as well as “increased passenger capacity” and “delivering the scheme closer to its current £56bn budget”, according to a report by the construction industry journal Building, who have also seen the letter sent by CRCC.
The BBC report that UK “government officials said no ‘concrete commitments’ had been made” following “preliminary discussions with the Chinese company”.
CRCC role in HS2 would be ‘highly questionable’
CRCC – which is part state-owned and publicly listed – operates in 121 countries and in 2018 had a turnover of more than £80 billion. It is described by Building as “one of the main players behind the construction of China’s 25,000km network of high-speed rail lines, which account for around two-thirds of the world’s total length.”
Allowing CRCC to build HS2 would add more controversy to the project with the Financial Times reminding readers of US president Donald Trump’s anger at the UK government’s decision to give Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei a role in building Britain’s 5G network.
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat is quoted by the BBC as saying it would be “highly questionable” to let CRCC build HS2, while “British [government] officials are said to be sceptical that it [CRCC] could operate in the same way in a democracy with property rights, protected landscapes and powerful lobbying groups.”
‘Should we allow others to act like we did in places like India and Nigeria?’
Tugendhat – the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the UK is in “dire need” of strategy for its relationship with China.
“We are being offered, at extraordinarily generous terms it appears, everything to connect our telephone networks, to connect our cities and to connect our power networks,” said Tugendhat.
“What is it that we want out of China? Have we decided to take back control from Brussels just to hand it over to Beijing?
“The idea that we should allow others to act like we did in places like India and Nigeria for the best part of 200 years, here, in the UK, would be extremely questionable.”
China doesn’t ‘worry about minor matters’ like ‘planning consent or workers’ rights’
The Tory MP for Tonbridge and Malling previously raised Huawei’s human rights record during the debate about their involvement in the UK’s 5G network and told Today: “The reason why Chinese projects in China are very often so quick is because they don’t worry about such minor matters as planning consent or workers’ rights.”
Tugendhat added: “It seems extremely unlikely that without really short-cutting any number of labour conditions that it would be possible [to build HS2 in five years].”
‘The Chinese way is to seek solutions, not linger on obstacles and difficulties’
The letter from CRCC claims the company can deliver HS2 by the middle of the decade and states: “We are certain that we can offer a cost that is significantly lower than the projections we have seen.
“The advantages are too great, in our opinion, too great to dismiss on the basis that there are obstacles to overcome. You will find that the Chinese way is to seek solutions, not linger on obstacles and difficulties.”