Transport secretary denies he spoke to China about HS2

Joanna Partridge

The UK government has not spoken to China about helping to build the troubled HS2 high-speed railway, according to the transport secretary, Grant Shapps.

Shapps dismissed reports that he spoken to Beijing’s state-owned railway-builder about a role in the construction of the rail link.

“They have clearly had a letter sent to HS2 Ltd, there has been no conversation with me as a minister, as the secretary of state,” Shapps said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “We should be talking to anyone we can learn from,” he said, adding that the government would be “fools” not to have a conversation about whether the project could be built more quickly.

According to a report in the Financial Times, the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) wrote to HS2 Ltd’s chief executive last month, saying it could build the line in five years (compared with the planned 15 years) and at a much lower cost than forecast.

CCRC has transformed China’s transport system and built most of the country’s 15,500-mile rail network. Shapps acknowledged the speed with which projects are built in China, but said: “I would say they don’t have our planning system, they don’t have our legal system, they don’t have to respect people’s property rights in the same way.”

(January 1, 2009) 

High Speed Two Ltd is set up by the Labour government to examine possibilities for increasing high-speed rail capacity in the UK.

(March 1, 2010) 

The project is split into two phases - London to Birmingham forms phase one, with phase two extending the route to Manchester and Leeds.

(January 10, 2012) 

The transport secretary, Conservative Justine Greening, announces the decision to build HS2.

(April 1, 2012) 

A judicial review is called into the HS2 decision.

(March 15, 2013) 

Lord Justice Ouseley upholds one of the 10 grounds for complaint about HS2 in the judicial review – the claim that the government had acted unfairly and unlawfully when consulting on compensation for homeowners affected by the route.

(November 3, 2013) 

The Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, describes the project as "absolutely vital" as MPs approve funding. The high-speed rail (London-West Midlands) bill is formally introduced in parliament.

(June 1, 2015) 

After freedom of information requests, a 2012 Department for Transport viability report into HS2 is released, revealing the department considered it unaffordable.

(December 21, 2018) 

Allan Cook replaces Sir Terry Morgan as chair of HS2, after the latter fails to deliver the opening of the Crossrail project in London on schedule.

(March 1, 2019) 

A report from the New Economics Foundation suggests HS2 will deliver the most benefit to London, and exacerbate regional inequality.

(August 21, 2019) 

A fresh government review begins into HS2 into whether the scheme should be approved, amended or scrapped entirely.

(September 3, 2019) 

The Conservative transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announces that full HS2 services between London and Birmingham will be delayed by up to five years to 2031, and that the final completion of the northern section of the high-speed rail network would likely be delayed by seven years until 2040. He also confirmed the budget had escalated from the official £56bn at 2015 prices to up to £88bn at today’s prices.

(February 11, 2020) 

After a period of review, prime minister Boris Johnson announces that HS2 will go ahead, alongside a package of measures aimed at improving bus and cycling links outside of London.

Boris Johnson controversially gave the green light for the HS2 scheme earlier this month, despite it being billions of pounds over budget. An official review has warned that costs could reach over £100bn, against a budget of £62bn. Under current plans the final stretch of the line is not due to be completed until 2040, although Johnson has said he wants that brought forward to 2035.

Department for Transport (DfT) officials had previously confirmed “preliminary discussions” had taken place between CCRC and HS2 Ltd, but said no “concrete commitments” had been made.

British officials have expressed concerns over a potential role for Beijing in infrastructure building. The US president, Donald Trump, reportedly reacted angrily to Johnson’s decision to allow the Chinese tech giant Huawei to supply equipment for the UK’s 5G mobile network.