Boris Johnson visits HS2 workers in Birmingham Credit: EDDIE KEOGH/WPA Rota/Press Association Images
Work on the HS2 project has been given the green light to start immediately despite the coronavirus lockdown. The Department for Transport issued a "notice to proceed" to the companies that will carry out the construction.
Andrew Stephenson, the minister in charge of the multi-billion pound project, said it would provide the workers and businesses involved "certainty" at a time of national crisis.
He 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."
Officials said the companies involved in the construction will have to ensure that workers remain at least two metres apart, in keeping with the current social distancing rules designed to slow the spread of the deadly illness.
Facilities for regular hand washing will also be made available, while only one person will be allowed in on-site vehicles.
HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston said: "In these difficult times, today's announcement represents both an immediate boost to the construction industry - and the many millions of UK jobs that the industry supports - and an important investment in Britain's future.
"While the country's focus is rightly on defeating Covid-19, the issuing of notice to proceed today ensures that our contractors and their supply chains have the confidence that they can commit to building HS2, generating thousands of skilled jobs across the country as we recover from the pandemic."
Boris Johnson gave the green light to the project in February, despite strong opposition on the Tory backbenches over the soaring cost and propsed route of the scheme.