Align, the French-led joint venture building part of the new HS2 railway, is importing steel reinforcement from a steel reinforcement fabricator in France that does not have the necessary UK approvals.
UK steel suppliers say that they are “concerned and disappointed” not just that uncertified steel is being used on the flagship project but also that CARES (the UK Certification Authority For Reinforcing Steel) has known about it since March and chosen to keep it quiet.
Align, led by Bouygues, is building the C1 section of the new high speed line between the Colne Valley and the Chilterns. This 21.6km section includes twin-bore 16km tunnels under the Chilterns.
French steel fabricator Sendin has supplied pre-assembled steel reinforcement panels for the diaphragm walls forming two of the tunnel ventilation shafts and is planning to deliver further assemblies to the same section.
Sendin does not hold UK approval for reinforcement cutting and bending and reinforcing bars as the French standard does not meet the requirements of BS 4449, particularly in respect of the specified fatigue properties. Nor does it hold UK approval for the application of the specified TA1-A reinforcement couplers.
HS2 Ltd said that there was no UK supplier that could fulfil the order.
To meet British Standards and, therefore meet the approval requirements of UK CARES, all hot rolled and cold worked steel bars should conform to BS EN 10080 and BS 4449 Grades B500B or B500C. Reinforcement should be cut and bent in accordance with BS 8666. Similarly, the specification for welding of reinforcement is very specific BS EN ISO 17660 which calls for the demonstration of satisfactory trial joint performance. This is the assurance given by all UK accredited fabricators.
Sendin is certified to meet the French AFCAB steel reinforcement certification scheme, which UK producers consider to be not as robust as the UK schemes, which encompass full verification of the source material, the transformation and the fabrication processes, plus all the ancillary products that are incorporated within the assemblies.
“HS2 is a major UK project being paid for by the UK public. It is, therefore, disappointing that HS2 is not ready to fully support the UK steel industry,” said Stephen Elliott, chairman of the British Association of Reinforcement. “We had hoped that UK major projects will work with, and not undermine, the UK steel industry.”
He added: “Of equal disappointment is that, despite being alerted to the importation of non-approved reinforcement, UK CARES has yet to make a formal public statement. It is understood that Sendin is now working to achieve UK certification but nine months on since the CARES was first alerted such retrospective approval is rather like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
UK Steel director general Gareth Stace agreed: “It is hugely disappointing to see HS2 failing here to take the most basic step of using of steel made to British standards,” he said. “Such practice is practically universal practice across the UK construction sector, HS2 would have almost had to go out of its way not to use British Standard steel. In doing so, HS2 has missed a vital opportunity to support UK jobs and economic growth through its spending of taxpayer’s money.
“Public projects like HS2 have enormous potential to contribute to the government’s levelling up agenda and spread their economic value right across the UK to the towns and cities where construction materials, like steel, are made. UK Public projects are estimated to require £4.7bn worth of steel in the next five years. If all sourced from the UK this would support an additional 14 thousand UK jobs and £4.3bn of UK economic activity compared to using imported steel. With such huge potential to support the UK recovery, it is essential that public projects start think carefully about where they buy their steel from, purchasing on a strategic basis that supports wider government social objectives. “
However, HS2 Ltd said that it supported Align’s used of the French steel because of exceptional circumstances.
A spokesperson said: “The volume of steel rebar awarded to Sendin is estimated at less than 5% of the total rebar used on Align's section of the HS2 project. The original supplier of this steel reinforcement was UK-based. However this supplier was unable to maintain the agreed programme – forcing potential delays and therefore higher costs on the project. Our contractor approached all suitable alternative UK suppliers, but none could provide the necessary product in time. The French fabricator Sendin is an internationally renowned supplier in this market that had previously held full UK certification and is in the process of being re-certified. They were able to respond quickly, allowing the project to stay on schedule. HS2 Ltd continues to work with UK Steel to provide updates on opportunities and broker relationships between its members and the HS2 supply chain.”