The UK Department for Transport (DfT) has given the ‘Notice to Proceed’ for the construction of High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project that will connect London, Birmingham and Leeds.

In February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the project should continue as the rail line will improve the capacity and connectivity.

The awarding of ‘Notice to Proceed’ is the formal approval to begin project construction. HS2 has entered Stage 2 of the main works civils contracts, where each contract is carried out by a specific joint venture (JV).

HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said: “While the government’s top priority is rightly to combat the spread of coronavirus, protect the NHS and save lives, we cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level up the country.

“HS2 will be the spine of the country’s transport network, boosting capacity and connectivity while also rebalancing opportunity fairly across our towns and cities.

“Following the decision earlier this year to proceed with the project, this next step provides thousands of construction workers and businesses across the country with certainty at a time when they need it, and means that work can truly begin on delivering this transformational project.”

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The four work packages that were awarded by HS2 include the full detailed design and construction of HS2’s Phase One.

These contracts provide surety of future activity for small and medium business, which protects jobs and increases certainty during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The JVs that were awarded the contracts in 2017, including SCS Railways, Align JV, EKBF JV and BBV JV, will have to undertake the construction work while adhering to the guidance issued by the Public Health England amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Railway Industry Association CEO Darren Caplan said: “HS2 is a truly transformational project for UK PLC, its national economy and connectivity, and gives a boost to the whole UK rail network, adding capacity to a number of key routes, benefiting towns, communities and cities across the whole country.

“It will also create thousands of jobs and spur investment, at a time when the UK will be looking at how it can recover economically from this coronavirus outbreak – so the Railway Industry Association and rail suppliers around the UK greatly appreciate this exciting news.”

Expected to complete by 2040, HS2 is currently behind schedule and over the proposed budget.

Last month, construction work commenced at HS2’s interchange station site near Birmingham Airport.