The Royal Assent granted to Phase 1 of HS2 has given formal approval for work to start on the UK’s first domestic, dedicated high speed rail line. However, long before the main construction starts, months – and in some cases, years – of detailed planning and preparation takes place to ensure that the all of the necessary permissions, studies and investigations have been completed.

Major infrastructure construction in the 21st century is far removed from the procedures and processes of old.  Cost and timescale are now considered to be only part of the selection mix, and the levels of community engagement, scientific study, workforce diversity, and the mitigation of construction impacts are key determining factors in assessing value for money.

A good example of such a unified strategy in action can be seen in the northern section of HS2 phase 1, when the LM joint venture (comprising Laing O’Rourke and J. Murphy & Sons Ltd) is conducting enabling works in and around Birmingham ahead of construction of the new high speed line.

At Finham Brook, not far from Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, construction work has started on an extensive nature reserve, that will form the new home for many mammals and invertebrates which will be affected by the main construction earthworks.  The reserve has been designed so that it will become an environment where the creatures can establish themselves and thrive.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the centre of Birmingham, detailed preparations are under way at the site of the new Curzon Street station. Covering a substantial area close to the city centre, much of the area will require detailed ground investigations, to make sure that the ground conditions match expectations.  In this particular location, this will need to be handled with the utmost sensitivity, as part of the footprint was a burial ground dating back several hundred years, and a large number of bodies will need to be exhumed before any further studies can take place.

Birmingham city stock. Early Spring. Curzon Street station. Proposed HS2 Station location. Eastside.

Far from being a negative issue for the wider project, a collaborative approach involving all interested parties will ensure that this presents the city with a unique chance to learn more about a previously hidden period of its past.

In equal measure, the opportunities that the project creates, in terms of work and services for suppliers, employment, training and educational programmes, and innovation in the delivery itself, all contribute to the choice of partner for the client.  And changing the face of construction has wider benefits for the national economy too, in terms of greater productivity, diversity of workforce with new, exciting technology-driven career opportunities available to people joining the industry.

Technology will drive this transformation with digital design, and offsite manufacturing producing a shorter construction timeline bringing improved efficiency, a safer and healthier working environment, greater certainty of delivery and a reduced carbon footprint. Enabling works are the pathfinders of major infrastructure projects, representing in many cases the first actual interaction between the client/contractor team and the affected communities.  As such, they set the entire project’s reputation in the public’s eyes, and it is vitally important therefore to get it right first time. HS2 phase 1 is a landmark project for the UK, and it’s off to a great start.