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Against all the odds HS2 is on track to be the railway project of the century

Against all the odds HS2 is on track to be the railway project of the century

🕔09.Jun 2015

The General Election result has brought certainty to high speed rail with confirmation by the Conservative government that HS2 will go ahead and that the northern section from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds will be delivered more quickly than expected, writes Paul Dale.

Even the most vociferous high speed rail critics must surely concede as the engineers and designers responsible for moving HS2 off the drawing board and into reality move in to their Birmingham offices at Two Snowhill that this is one controversial transport project that Britain isn’t going to duck.

As astonishing as it may seem in a country with a reputation for bottling national infrastructure schemes because they are too costly and too difficult, a new railway capable of handling 250-mph trains will be up and running between London and Birmingham by 2026, cutting the journey time from one hour and 12 minutes to 49 minutes.

That will be followed by phase two, taking the line to the heart of the northern powerhouse.

Against all the odds and despite the noisy protests, it seems clear that this will be the railway project of the century.

The HS2 hybrid bill committee is continuing its exhaustive probe into the thousands of petitions protesting largely on environmental grounds against phase one of the high speed project through areas of outstanding natural beauty in the Chilterns and on to Warwickshire and Birmingham.

But whatever conclusions the committee may draw, it is clear that the Government has decided it is full steam ahead for HS2, and as far as the Birmingham economy is concerned the arrival of high speed rail in 2026 cannot come a moment too soon.

According to the Birmingham Curzon Draft Masterplan the high speed rail terminus at Curzon Street will be a “once in a century opportunity to radically enhance the city’s national rail connectivity and accelerate its economic growth potential” and will provide a catalyst to unlock major regeneration sites.

The masterplan covers over 140 hectares of Eastside and Digbeth and the eastern fringe of the city centre core, providing a framework and principles to guide development, regeneration and connectivity. It is envisaged that HS2 will deliver 14,000 jobs in the Curzon regeneration area as well as 600,000 sq ms of business space, 2,000 new homes and a £1.3 billion economic uplift.

Key development opportunities listed by the city council include Martineau Square and Exchange Square, the Beorma Quarter, Typhoo Wharf, Banbury Wharf, Eastside Locks, Birmingham Science Park Aston and Curzon Point.

New areas of public realm and open space are planned for Moor Street Queensway and Paternoster Place; Curzon Promenade, Duddeston Viaduct Skypark, Eastside Locks and opportunities along the canal and River Rea corridors.

High speed rail will also help to transform sites around the Birmingham Interchange station at the NEC/Birmingham Airport. An additional 100,000 jobs and a £19.5 billion uplift in GDP could be created after journey times to London are cut to 40 minutes, according to Arup.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin wasted no time after the General Election in confirming that HS2 would go ahead and that it was the Government’s intention to speed up delivery of phase two, which takes the line in a Y-shape from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds via Crewe.

In a speech in Leeds Mr McLoughlin spoke passionately about “the power of transport to change things” and pledges “not to waste a moment” on working with regional leaders to create a Northern Powerhouse of jobs, prosperity, bright futures and closing the gap between south and north.

The Transport Secretary said the election result was a massive vote of confidence in favour of HS2 and confirmed construction is on track to start in 2017.

He confirmed that £13 billion government funding would be invested to transform transport infrastructure in the north over the next five years – better connecting up the region so that northern towns and cities can pool their strengths and create a single economy, helping Britain better compete on the world stage.

And he pledged that the north will be empowered to shape its own future – by devolving power away from Whitehall. He said that by the autumn, Transport for the North (TfN) – the body established by the Government to work with it on delivering a Northern Transport Strategy – will have a new independent chair to speak on behalf of the north with one voice on delivering improved train and bus services, rolling out smart ticketing, looking after passengers, reducing road congestion and speeding up links to ports and airports.

Mr McLoughlin said:

Nothing is more important to this government than a healthy economy which benefits all working people. It means rebalancing our economy and building the Northern Powerhouse. We will not waste a moment getting on with the task.

The Government will announce the way forward for Phase Two from Birmingham to Leeds and to Manchester, later this year. The Transport Secretary confirmed that legislation would be prepared in this Parliament, looking at bringing HS2 to Crewe faster than planned, subject to further analysis and decisions on the preferred route.

Work will also continue to look at ways of using the HS2 line to introduce faster regional services and at the case for speeding up construction of the Sheffield to Leeds section.

Mr McLoughlin said:

The General Election result was a massive vote of confidence in favour of HS2.

So the argument has been won. HS2 will be built, the full ‘Y’ network, from London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, with construction starting in just two years.

Labour promised to review the cost of the £21.2 billion second phase of HS2 if it won the General Election in order to bring down the project’s “soaring bill”.

The overall cost of HS2 is a matter of heated debate. The Transport Secretary insists the entire project can be built for no more than £43 billion. But a study by the Institute of Economic affairs suggested a total cost of £80 billion.

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