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Construction of the HS2 project has finally begun today after years of delays and running billions over budget. The project will connect London with the West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester, despite connections already in place.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Shovels in the ground to deliver this new railway means thousands of jobs building the future of our country’s infrastructure.
“This fantastic moment is what leaders across the North and Midlands have called for – action to level up our country by boosting capacity on our railways, improving connections between our regions and spreading prosperity.”
However, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has hit out over the staggering cost of the project.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Farage said: “Hard to believe that with huge government debt and a new zoom meeting culture the HS2 railway project begins today at a cost of £100billion, madness.”
The government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned the final bill for HS2 could reach up to £106 billion at 2019 rates.
The start of the project comes after the UK is set to enter the worst recession in history due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Due to the crisis, the government is likely to have to borrow enormous amounts of money.
According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the figure could be anywhere between £263bn to £391bn.
The government was expected to borrow around £55bn for the whole financial year but within the first three months, it borrowed £128bn.
This week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched a £2bn scheme to tackle the record number of under-25s on benefits.
The KickStart scheme comes after a staggering 538,000 people aged between 16 to 24 claimed Universal Credit during lockdown.
Mr Sunak said: “This isn’t just about kickstarting our country’s economy – it is an opportunity to kickstart the careers of thousands of young people who could otherwise be left behind as a result of the pandemic.
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“The scheme will open the door to a brighter future for a new generation and ensure the UK bounces back stronger as a country.”
As the HS2 project gets underway today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who gave the go-ahead in February – said it would create around 22,000 jobs.
He said: “HS2 is at the heart of our plans to build back better – and with construction now formally underway, it’s set to create around 22,000 new jobs.
“As the spine of our country’s transport network, the project will be vital in boosting connectivity between our towns and cities.”
The project involves constructing more than 300 bridges and 70 viaducts for the London-West Midlands phase alone.
There will also be six new stations including Birmingham Curzon Street and will see extensions for London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly.
Its aim is to run 18 trains an hour in each direction to and from London – at speeds of up to 224mph.
HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said: “After 10 years of development and preparatory work, today we can formally announce the start of full construction, unlocking thousands of jobs and supply chain opportunities across the project.”
Earlier this year, a report from the Woodland Trust said the project will damage or destroy 108 ancient woodlands, five Internationally protected wildlife sites and 693 local wildlife areas.
But HS2 Ltd claims the construction will not impact bio-diversity as it plans to create a “green corridor” alongside the line.
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