As construction of the controversial HS2 railway began, the prime minister insisted that public transport infrastructure projects would be “crucial for our country”.
His comments came as former Transport Secretary of Labor Lord Adonis said “the office’s death is massively exaggerated” and he insisted most people “cannot wait” to return. at work.
But the chief executive of sandwich chain Pret A Manger said he didn’t think workers would ever return to pre-pandemic levels.
“I think customer behavior will change for good,” Pano Christou told Sky News.
“I think flexible working will be more obvious than it has ever been. ”
The demand for train travel is 31% of thepandemic levels, according to figures from the Ministry of Transport.
Mr Johnson said: “I think a lot of people have had the benefit of working from home. It has been wonderful and it has definitely improved the quality of people’s lives in so many ways and I commend people for the hard work they have done from home. .
“But I have absolutely no doubt that transit infrastructure will be critical to our country, not just now, but decades to come. ”
HS2 will connect London to the West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester, and is the largest infrastructure project in Europe.
The aim is to run 18 trains per hour in each direction to and from London – at speeds of up to 224 mph – compared to between two and six per hour on European high-speed railways. But the project may not be ready for passengers across the network until 2040.
The government-commissioned Oakervee Review on HS2 warned last year that the final bill for the rail project could reach £ 106bn at 2019 prices, but the PM gave HS2 the green light in February with a revised budget and schedule.
Speaking at a ‘shovels in the ground’ event for HS2 in Solihull, in the West Midlands, he said: “This incredible project will create 22,000 jobs now, but tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs in the decades to come, connecting Birmingham, 8 miles away, to London , just 38 minutes behind me when HS2 is built. ”
He added: “Transport connectivity is at the heart of reconstruction, faster reconstruction and greener recovery.”
Pano Christou, chief executive of Pret A Manger, also said he couldn’t guarantee more job cuts after demand slump. “People are hoping it will come back, you have different countries that have second waves, third waves. It’s so hard to tell if you will or if you won’t. I think any CEO would be in a similar situation, ”he said.
Meanwhile, Lord Adonis told Sky’s Ian King Live program that there was “no reason to believe that once the vaccine comes in and the pandemic is over, life will not return to normal.”
He said: “Once COVID-19[feminine[feminine is over, and we have a vaccine and life is getting back to normal, all the reasons we needed the HS2 – we have a massive shortage of transport capacity between our big cities – this will always be true afterwards and we can’t not allow us the delay. “
The former minister added: “Of course there is no one on the railways at the moment because there is a pandemic and we still do not have a vaccine.
“But there is no reason to believe that once the vaccine arrives and the pandemic is over, life will not return to normal. Indeed, all the evidence is that it will return to normal.
“If you look at the sectors that are already getting back to normal – education and retail – they’re behaving like they used to be, and I think it will be the same for the economy as a whole.
“I think the death of the office is massively exaggerated.
“Most people can’t wait to get back to the office, it’s just not safe to do so right now. ”
Work from home, although recommended during the worst of coronavirus pandemic, is now blamed for holding back the economic recovery.
Downtown retailers continue to suffer from low attendance while workers stay away from the office, prompting Mr Johnson to encourage people to return to the workplace.
The National Statistics Office (ONS) released figures on Thursday showing that the proportion of people working exclusively from home is slowly declining.
The peak – between June 11 and 14 – saw 38% of adults working only from home, but last week that rate fell to 20%.
The ONS said: “In the most recent week, the proportion of active adults who went to work reached 57%, its highest level since the start of the series, after rising steadily over the course of the series. over the past two months. “