HS2 engineers training college plan

Banbury Cake: Plans for a college to train top engineers to work on the HS2 high-speed rail project were unveiled by Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock Plans for a college to train top engineers to work on the HS2 high-speed rail project were unveiled by Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock

Plans for a new college to train the next generation of top engineers to work on the construction of the £50 billion HS2 high-speed rail project have been unveiled by the Government.

The announcement came after yet another top politician - this time Foreign Office Minister David Lidington - expressed concern about the project, whose first London to Birmingham phase runs through Tory heartlands in the Chilterns.

Announced by Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock, the new college will deliver the specialised training and qualifications needed for high-speed rail, which will benefit HS2 and other future infrastructure projects across the country.

It will offer the necessary technical training, including rail engineering, environmental skills and construction to make HS2 a success and ensure it can be built by skilled British workers.

It will be the first new incorporated Further Education College in over 20 years.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "HS2 is the biggest infrastructure project that this Government is delivering. So it is right that a large scale investment in bricks and mortar should also come with investment in the elite skills which will help build it. "

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that when HS2 is completed it would " underpin the delivery of 400,000 jobs".

It is expected that HS2 will create up to 2,000 apprentices during the lifetime of construction. Also, it is expected the college will open in 2017, the date for the first London to Birmingham phase of HS2 to begin.

The first phase is due for completion in 2026, with a second phase, taking the line on a Y-shaped route to north west and north east England, due to be finished in 2032/33.

Mr Hancock made the announcement on a visit to the HS2 cross-over station site at Old Oak Common in north west London railway.

Also present was former Network Rail chief executive Sir David Higgins who was making his first public appearance since taking over as chair of HS2 Ltd, the body charged with promoting and delivering HS2.

Sir David said: "This country produces some of the best engineers to be found anywhere in the world. The problem is that there aren't enough of them, and there isn't a long enough guaranteed work-stream to keep them here. So they tend to go overseas.

"HS2 provides us with a unique chance to address both issues. The sheer length of the project means we can offer people a rewarding career in engineering staying in this country, whilst the multiplicity of skills required means we will be equipping a new generation with experience at the cutting edge of technology.

"So HS2 gives us the chance not just to re-balance the economic geography of the country, but also our national skills base. It is an opportunity we should seize."

Mr Lidington's concerns have been over what he regards as "misleading" information from HS2 Ltd to residents affected by the HS2 high-speed rail project.

Among people affected by the London to Birmingham first phase of the line are those in the Aylesbury constituency where Foreign Office Minister David Lidington is the MP.

Mr Lidington met Mr McLoughlin and HS2 Ltd representatives last week where he complained about more than 800 pages of the environmental impact assessment being missing from information sent out by HS2 for consultation.

Mr Lidington has also criticised HS2 Ltd for sending out letters to 140 householders telling them that access to their home for HS2 work would be needed for 203 weeks when the necessity was only for "two to three weeks".

The minister is also upset about a "misleading" letter sent to 15,000 householders about the effects of the HS2 work.

HS2 Ltd said it had made efforts to explain to the "203-week" residents about the true nature of the work and that the missing pages from the environmental statement had now been included.

A source close to Mr McLoughlin said: "When Patrick heard about the error in the letter HS2 Ltd sent to some of David Lidington's constituents, he made it clear it was unacceptable and must not happen again.

"He also felt that the information sent more widely to people affected along the route should have been clearer.

"His view is that everyone involved with the project must always be mindful of how sensitive such matters are for those affected and ensure they act accordingly."

Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling and former Labour business secretary Lord Mandelson have spoken out against the scheme, while former Tory Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan is a leading opponent.

The cost of the entire project is currently £42.6 billion, with a further £7.5 billion for the high-speed trains. One of Sir David's tasks is to see if this cost can be reduced.

Liam Byrne, shadow minister for universities, science and skills, said: "A year ago Ed Miliband urged the Government to use the HS2 scheme to boost apprenticeships.

"While any new training opportunities are welcome, particularly when almost a million young people are out of work, it is a shame that this announcement - of 2,000 apprenticeships over the lifetime of the project - doesn't match our ambition of 33,000 new places.

"The Tory-led Government has refused to back Labour's plans to use public procurement to create thousands of new apprenticeship opportunities across Britain."

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