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UK minister denies talking to China over HS2

By EARLE GALE | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-18 08:47
Britain's Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps is seen outside Downing Street in London, Feb 14, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Transport chief suggests CRCC may have had discussions at company level

The United Kingdom's transport minister has distanced himself from speculation that a Chinese State-owned railway company may be called on to help build Britain's first north-south high-speed rail line.

Grant Shapps responded to a report in Building magazine that claims China Railway Construction Corporation wants to get involved in the troubled HS2 project by saying any contact had been on a company-to-company level, and that he was not involved.

"I've certainly had no advice on the subject," Shapps told the BBC. "Obviously, I will be asking to see what the communication has been. This has not been a discussion with the department (of transport), it's been a discussion with HS2, as I understand it."

Building said China Railway Construction Corporation, which is also known as CRCC, had said in a letter that it could deliver the line in five years, instead of the 15 or 20 currently anticipated; and that it could do so for less money.

The Times newspaper noted that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants the line, which is currently set for completion in 2040, to be finished in 2035.

The proposed new route, which was originally slated to cost 62 billion pounds ($81 billion) and which is now expected to cost upwards of 100 billion pounds, has faced numerous challenges, including its temporary suspension while an official review was carried out.

Building magazine said CRCC wrote: "We are certain that we can offer a cost that is significantly lower than the projections we have seen."

The letter, which was also seen by the Financial Times, reportedly continues: "The advantages are, 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."

Shapps, however, said UK rules and regulations protecting landscapes and property would make it very difficult to significantly speed up the project.

He said on The Andrew Marr Show that CRRC is used to operating in China where "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".

"I really want to get this thing built faster if it is possible," he said. "But when you look at what is required … it is an enormous project. You are not going to build it in five years."

But despite Shapp's assertions, The Sunday Telegraph reported that, in a bid to speed things up, HS2 Ltd has drawn up a new environmental policy in which it abandons commitments to "avoid significant adverse impacts on health and quality and life". The paper claims HS2 has dropped a pledge to restore agricultural land after construction, and says it no longer vows to protect residents, landscapes, and habitats.

The BBC reported that Department for Transport officials have since confirmed that "preliminary discussions" have taken place between CCRC, which built much of China's 25,000 kilometers of high-speed rail routes, and HS2 Ltd.

The Guardian noted that Shapps said: "We should be talking to anyone we can learn from."

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