HS2 must be made using BRITISH steel say unions

HS2 must be made using BRITISH steel say unions – as ministers dismiss speculation the Chinese state could be called in to build the controversial railway

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week gave green light to £106billion project
  • It will need estimated two million tons of steel to build track, tunnels and bridges
  • Growing concerns that foreign-made steel will be used in a bid to keep costs low 

British-made steel must be used to build the new high-speed rail link HS2, industry groups and unions have urged ministers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week gave the green light to the £106billion project, despite criticism of cost overruns and delays.

The HS2 network will link London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in a Y-shaped line.

British-made steel must be used to build the new high-speed rail link HS2, industry groups and unions have urged ministers. Pictured: Artist’s impression of an HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct

It will require an estimated two million tons of steel to build everything from track to tunnels and bridges over the next 10 years.

This is equivalent to more than a quarter of the UK steel industry’s total annual production and could provide a shot in the arm to the sector, which is battling high energy costs and competition from cheaper – and often state-subsidised – foreign competitors.

But there are growing concerns that foreign-made steel will be used in a bid to keep costs low, which unions have said would be ‘a kick in the teeth for our world-class steel producers’.

Yesterday there were reports that the government is in talks with China over HS2 contracts – which ministers quickly denied.

Alasdair McDiarmid, operations director for the steelworkers’ union Community, said: ‘HS2 should be a big boost to UK steel producers if the Government gets the procurement right.

‘When there’s this much taxpayer money going into a project, the maximum benefit should be returned to businesses and communities in the UK.

‘It’s the perfect opportunity for the Government to show the steps that have been made to procurement are working.

‘Sourcing steel from anywhere else but our own market would be a failure and a kick in the teeth for our world-class steel producers.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week gave the green light to the £106billion project, despite criticism of cost overruns and delays

The UK is a relatively small player in global steel. It produced just 7.3 million tons of steel a year in 2018 compared with 928 million tons made by China.

But British-made steel is known for being high quality. Its customers include Network Rail, which sources around 97 per cent of its steel in the UK’s rail tracks from Scunthorpe-headquartered British Steel.

Industry body UK Steel said it is a ‘golden opportunity’ for the Government to show its support for the ailing sector.

But there are growing concerns that cheaper foreign-made steel will be used in a bid to keep costs low.

Gareth Stace, director general of UK Steel, said: ‘HS2 present the Government with a golden opportunity to show its support for the UK’s steel industry and the tens of thousands of people working in it.

‘We firmly believe that where projects are paid for by the taxpayer, it is just good common sense to maximise the benefits to the UK in terms of jobs, skills and economic growth and the use of UK steel for HS2 will do just this.

‘We are calling upon the Government to now set an ambitious target for the use of UK steel in the HS2 project and identify measures to achieve this.’ 

UK Steel estimates using domestically produced steel could add £1.5billion to the economy and support more than 2,000 jobs over the next decade.

It comes as the Government has been forced to deny it was in talks with China over building HS2.

China’s state railway company, the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), told HS2 Ltd it could build the network in just five years for less money than is being budgeted, according to a letter seen by Building magazine.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘This has not been a discussion with the Department for Transport.’ In a BBC interview, Mr Shapps added: ‘I’ve certainly had no advice on the subject.

‘Obviously I will be asking to see what the communication has been.

‘This has not been a discussion with HS2 as I understand it.’

China’s reported interest in building HS2 follows a Chinese swoop on British Steel, which went bust in May leaving around 4,500 jobs hanging in the balance.

Chinese industrials group Jingye emerged as the surprise frontrunner in the race to save the steelmaker in November, after talks with Ataer Holdings, an arm of Turkey’s military pension fund, fell through.

Jingye is offering to buy British Steel in its entirety for about £50m and has pledged to plough £1.2billion into it to keep it afloat.

According to reports this weekend, it will also propose reopening one of the blast furnaces, a part of the factory which produces steel from scratch, as a sweetener to the deal.

It has until the end of this month to finalise a takeover with the Official Receiver. 

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