Britain's Finance Minister George Osborne opens bidding in China for high-speed rail link

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers a speech at the Shanghai Stock Exchange in Shanghai, China, on Sept 22, 2015. Mr Osborne announced a feasibility study into linking the London and Shanghai stock exchanges earlier in his t
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers a speech at the Shanghai Stock Exchange in Shanghai, China, on Sept 22, 2015. Mr Osborne announced a feasibility study into linking the London and Shanghai stock exchanges earlier in his trip, as well as discussions of the possibility of the Chinese central bank issuing government bonds denominated in yuan in London.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - British Finance Minister George Osborne is on Thursday (Sept 24) set to open bidding for £11.8 billion (S$25.6 billion) in contracts to build a high-speed rail link in England.

The High Speed Two (HS2) project aims to create faster links between London and cities to the north, starting with Birmingham.

Hoping to woo Chinese investment, Mr Osborne will announce the opening of the bidding process for the first stage in the city of Chengdu, at the end of a five-day visit aimed and strengthening trade ties.

"We are truly entering a golden era of cooperation between our two countries, and it's crucial that businesses and communities from across the UK feel the full benefit of forging closer economic links with China," Mr Osborne was expected to say, according to a British government statement.

Mr Osborne argues that the rail link will boost economic development in the midlands and north of England, but critics fear the link will destroy woodlands and countryside and turn northern cities into commuter towns for London.

"This government is committed to rebalancing our economy and building a Northern Powerhouse, and improving transport links and launching HS2 is key to supporting long-term economic growth across the North and Midlands," Mr Osborne was to say.

HS2 is yet to be finally approved by parliament but the eventual plan is to extend the line into the north of England to the cities of Manchester and Leeds.

The first stage of contracts will cover the construction of tunnels and the surface route of the line between London and Birmingham, where journey times are estimated to drop from one hour 20 minutes to 50 minutes under the plan.

Mr Osborne announced a feasibility study into linking the London and Shanghai stock exchanges earlier in his trip, as well as discussions of the possibility of the Chinese central bank issuing government bonds denominated in yuan in London.

The Chancellor is hoping to confirm Chinese investment into a new power plant at Hinkley Point in England, and has pledged a £2 billion government guarantee in a bid to secure a deal.

Campaigners criticised Mr Osborne for his focus on investment over human rights on Wednesday as he visited Xinjiang in north-west China, homeland of the country's mostly Muslim Uighur minority and the site of increased unrest in recent years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Britain next month.