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Social distancing brings work on transport projects to a halt


03 April 2020

Construction work on most major transport schemes has ground to a halt as employers follow the Government’s social distancing guidelines and instruct staff to stay at home. 

London’s east-west Crossrail project is one of the major schemes affected. It is already running years behind schedule, with the central tunnelled section now officially supposed to open in summer 2021.

Mark Wild, chief executive of Crossrail Ltd said: “While we are doing everything we safely can to keep the Crossrail programme on track, Covid-19 will have an impact – it’s too early to tell what that impact will be.”

Transport for London says construction work has halted on all of its projects. 

In Edinburgh, construction of the tram extension from the city centre to Newhaven in the north  has stopped. The city council said it was following advice from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that all construction sites should close, unless the project being delivered is essential.

Surprisingly, preparatory works have been continuing on HS2 phase one between London and the West Midlands.

This has prompted criticism, including a robust statement from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. 

“We have closed our nature reserves to protect people,” it said. “So why have HS2 Ltd contractors not stopped work yet  How can destroying ancient woodlands be ‘essential’ in this Covid-19 crisis? Saving nature is essential. Destroying it is not.”

HS2 critic Lord Berkeley has written to the Prime Minister urging him to instruct HS2 Ltd to cease work for six months. Berkeley sent Boris Johnson photographs of contractors on the project failing to comply with the social distancing guideline of keeping two metres apart. 

“The work cannot be considered in any way urgent since there must be questions about demand for transport in the future,” said Berkeley. 

He has taken the opportunity to urge Johnson to rethink whether the project is necessary. “I am sure that ministers will want to look at the finances for HS2 and/or its cheaper alternatives in the light of the Government’s unexpected expenditure on supporting business and people as a result of the coronavirus, before deciding whether to allocate over £100bn to HS2.

“Ministers may also wish to consider whether, as a result of people getting used to working from home or remotely, demand for transport in the future will be reduced to the extent that HS2 in its entirety is no longer needed.”

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