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HS2: All aboard?

HS2: All aboard?

🕔17.Jul 2017

Today’s announcements about the next phases of the HS2 railway line and contracts awarded for the London to Birmingham part will be welcomed by many in the region who, like us, believe the project will be a game changer, writes Kevin Johnson

But for others, the current state of Parliament and Government means the project continues to be at the mercy of those who think it a “massive” waste of money – or that it will adversely affect their backyard/constituency.

In an unusual move, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will make a statement to the House of Commons at 10pm this evening following announcement of the preferred ‘Y-route’ to Manchester and Leeds. South Yorkshire MPs, in particular, are not happy.

Today’s earlier announcements include the awarding of contracts for civil engineering works on phase 1. They are said to be worth a total of £6.6Bn across the design and construction preparation along with construction stages. They will support an estimated 16,000 jobs.

In addition, they are forecast to generate 7,000 contract opportunities in the supply chain, of which around 60% are expected to go to SMEs according to the Department for Transport.

It is noticeable in today’s official announcement that the Government is stressing the impact of contracts, jobs and apprenticeships “across the country.”

The Department for Transport also highlights the impact on local trains services, with HS2 able to “carry more than 300,000 people a day – freeing up thousands of seats.”

Contractors for the design and construction of bridges, tunnels, embankments and viaducts include well known names Carillion – which has hit the business headlines in recent days – Balfour Beatty and Sir Robert McAlpine.

Invitations to tender have also been issued for the design of the stations between Euston and Birmingham city centre.

A Hybrid Bill is being introduced for the necessary powers to construct phase 2a, from the West Midlands to Crewe, bringing the line “within reach of all the cities in the north that have existing rail connections to Crewe.”

The extension to Crewe – heralded as coming six years earlier than originally planned – will be subject to Parliamentary approval through primary legislation. Like anything else in the Queen’s Speech, that makes it subject to the delicate arithmetic in the current House of Commons. As recent newspaper reports testify, the Government is hardly a happy and balanced ship which will make whipping especially difficult.

Whilst HS2 was passionately promoted by a former Labour minister, Lord Adonis, it cannot be said that all its MPs including some Shadow Cabinet members and local MPs such as John Spellar are outright enthusiasts.

With the prospect of another election still looming, MPs of all sides will be paying particularly close attention to the views of their constituents.

Whilst HS2 will proceed, starting with phase 1 which received parliamentary assent earlier this year, it remains controversial to many meaning subsequent phases are likely to face a challenging parliamentary journey.

Birmingham’s recent economic success, including inward investment performance which saw a record 151 foreign direct investment projects in the last year, relies to a large extent on capitalising on HS2.

Steve Hollis, Chairman of GBSLEP, commented:

Today’s announcements are important steps forward for HS2 and for Greater Birmingham & Solihull. The additional capacity and improved connections with London delivered by Phase 1 are important for our economy, but Phase 2 and the full “Y-network” that connects us with the major cities in the north is the real game-changer.

Here in the West Midlands, we are working with our neighbouring LEPs and the Combined Authority to deliver our £4.4bn Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy, which sets out how we will ensure that HS2 will benefit our businesses, our people and our places.

In particular, we look forward to supporting as many of our businesses as possible to work with the major suppliers who have been successful in bidding for the £6.6bn of contracts announced earlier today.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said:

HS2 will deliver vital links between some of our country’s biggest cities, helping to drive economic growth and productivity in the north and midlands.

As well as providing desperately needed new seats and better connecting our major cities, HS2 will help rebalance our economy.

David Higgins, Chairman of HS2 Ltd, said:

HS2 was always designed to be much more than just a high speed railway and today we can see the opportunities it brings right around the country – spreading prosperity, acting as a catalyst for investment and rebalancing our economy 10 years before the railway even opens. Business now has the surety to invest with confidence to build a legacy for Britain.

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