Chancellor George Osborne is firing the starting gun on the government’s High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project today by inviting companies to bid on at least seven new contracts worth £11.8bn.
The chancellor will announce the bidding process for phase one of the HS2 project at an event in Chengdu, China today.
A Treasury spokesperson said that the event – one of many during Osborne’s five-day visit to China this week – is “aimed at wooing some of China’s biggest investors to be part of the project as well as a raft of other major UK infrastructure projects”.
The chancellor is also expected to announce a new “HS2 partnering day” for British and Chinese firms to look into joining up on bids for contracts.
The HS2 project looks to build high-speed rail services from London to the Midlands, as well as to cities further north, including Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.
While the project has yet to be fully approved, the first phase of construction is due to start in 2017.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that Osborne’s announcement today would be a “major step towards construction on HS2 getting underway in two years’ time and a massive opportunity to help rebalance our economy long before the trains start running in 2026”.
Chinese premier Li Keqiang has previously indicated that he wants to finance and build the HS2 project, offering direct help to Prime Minister David Cameron during trade meetings in Beijing and London in the last two years.
But China is unlikely to be the only source of foreign direct investment in the project.
The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has expressed an interest in investing in HS2, and government ministers have recently taken trips to Spain to court the likes of Ferrovial, a multinational infrastructure company.