Tuesday 16 July 2019 4:54 pm

HS2 locks horns with Bechtel in bid to break contract stalemate

HS2 has asked the High Court to allow it to push on with the construction of one its London stations despite an ongoing legal challenge from engineering giant Bechtel.

HS2 Limited, which is overseeing the proposed £56bn railway linking London to the north, has applied to lift the “automatic suspension” that is preventing it from signing a £1.3bn contract with a Balfour Beatty-led consortium for its station at Old Oak Common in northwest London.

Read more: HS2 hit with legal claim from American engineering giant Bechtel over Old Oak Common contract

HS2 has so far been unable to award the station contract to Balfour Beatty, Vinci Construction and Systra because of a legal challenge launched by Bechtel in February over the procurement process.

An automatic suspension, which acts an injunction, kickstarts automatically when court proceedings are brought before a contract has been signed.

In the legal claim, launched in February, Bechtel alleges that HS2 accepted an “abnormally low” bid from its rival despite acknowledging that the consortium was “severely under-resourced and a real risk to the safe and timely completion and handover”.

A hearing to consider HS2’s application to lift the automatic suspension has been set for 3 September, while a full trial to consider Bechtel’s allegations has been set for next October.

This means that unless the court lifts the suspension, the ban on construction of the station could be in place for a further 15 months which would put the entire project significantly behind schedule.

So far the only work that has occurred at the site has been by Costain/Skanska to demolish any buildings and clear the site.

An HS2 spokesperson said: “The arrival of HS2 will transform Old Oak Common, unlocking the opportunity for thousands of new jobs and homes around, what will be, one of the best connected railway stations in the UK. Our early works contractors are currently hard at work, clearing the huge site and preparing for the start of station construction.

“Balfour Beatty, Vinci and Systra are a highly experienced team which scored higher than Bechtel in a number of areas, including ensuring value for money for the UK taxpayer.

“We are confident that the construction partner procurement process was robust, and we are seeking to sign contracts with Balfour Beatty/Vinci/Systra as soon as the court will allow.”

Last week transport secretary Chris Grayling was criticised after it emerged he had given Heathrow Airport £9m to prepare for HS2, despite the project’s future hanging in the balance while the country awaits a new Prime Minister.

Jeremy Hunt has said politicians should “back it to the hilt”, while frontrunner Boris Johnson has said he will commission a review into the scheme, which a number of MPs fear is running millions over budget.

The Department for Transport has preemptively committed to handing Britain’s biggest airport the money as compensation for knocking down a rail depot at Old Oak Common where Heathrow Express trains are kept.

Read more: HS2 Birmingham: The £435m station nobody wants to build

The construction of Old Oak Common is due to be completed by 2026, when the first phase of the railway, between London and Birmingham, will open.

The second phase, which will link Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, will be finished by 2032 and 2033.