HS2 Phase 2b partner contract on hold

The client organisation for HS2 has indicated a state of hold has been placed on the development partner contract for Phase 2b of the high speed rail project. This comes after reported protestations over award of the contract to CH2M from the losing bidder Mace.

A spokesman for HS2 Ltd has confirmed that the organisation is in talks with one of the bidders and that a statement will be made "in due course".

CH2M was announced as the principal winner of the development partner commission in February, with Mott MacDonald/WSP Joint Venture, AECOM/Capita/INECO JV and Arup winning civils design and environmental support contracts. These were due to be signed after 20 February, but the signing has been delayed while HS2 Ltd investigates claims of conflict of interest, according to reports in Construction News.

CH2M director Roy Hill was appointed interim chief executive of HS2 Ltd while the procurement process for the development partner contract was ongoing. The permanent position was then handed to another CH2M man, the firm's former managing director for Europe, Mark Thurston. HS2 Ltd and CH2M have claimed a system of Chinese Walls was in place to prevent conflict of interest. Mace is understood to have issued complaints over other aspects of the procurement process, however. CH2M was also the development partner for Phase One and it is also part of the Phase One engineering delivery team with Atkins and Sener.

This latest delay to the development of the overall project is being watched closely by government. HS2 failed to pass muster on the category of 'client capability' through a process of checking the project's maturity last year. This helped to bring about the exit of chief exec Simon Kirby, who took up a new post at Rolls Royce last summer. The Phase One hybrid bill for HS2 became an Act of parliament last month as it gained Royal Assent, but hybrid bills for Phase 2a to Crewe and Phase 2b to Manchester and Leeds will follow after further consultations on changes to the routes have been completed.

Independent analysis by the National Audit Office has criticised the project's progress, saying its timetable is currently unrealistic and without adequate cost controls in a report last year. Transport secretary Chris Grayling has claimed HS2 is on course and already delivering benefits:

"Local authorities and enterprise partnerships are gearing up for HS2 and developing growth strategies, supported by UK government growth strategy funding," he said. "HS2 is working with businesses across the UK, including many small and medium-sized firms, to ensure they are well prepared to bid for contracts and reap its benefits. Already, several contracts have been let and major contracts for up to £11.8 billion worth for the civil engineering work between London and Crewe will start to be let in 2017."