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North of England must feel HS2 benefits sooner, says high speed rail boss

North of England must feel HS2 benefits sooner, says high speed rail boss

🕔17.Mar 2014

Construction of the HS2 high speed railway should be speeded up to bring economic benefits more quickly to the north of England, the man in charge of the project suggested today.

Sir David Higgins wants a 43-mile stretch from Birmingham to Crewe to be built by 2027, six years earlier than planned.

He is also calling for Crewe to become a major road, rail and freight transport hub in a clear sign that the HS2 company is responding to claims by politicians in northern towns and cities that it will take decades for high speed rail to bring transport and economic benefits to their communities.

Phase one of the HS2 project, from Euston to Birmingham, is scheduled to be completed by 2026 for £24.4 billion including the cost of trains and a contingency sum. Phase two, a Y-shaped line to the north-west and north-east of England is estimated to cost £26.7 billion and should be finished by 2033.

Sir David, chairman of HS2, is also considering whether construction of phases one and two should begin in parallel with work getting under way in the north at the same time as in the south. One advantage of such an approach would be to bring thousands of construction jobs to the north of England immediately.

Sir David, who helped deliver the 2012 London Olympics on time and on budget, launched his HS2 report in Manchester today and said the government should “accelerate phase two as soon as possible.”

The possibility of speeding up construction on Phase two could have an impact on the location of the HS2 College to train a new generation of railway engineers. The Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP is asking the Government to locate the new facility in a number of existing colleges across Birmingham and the West Midlands, but lobbying from northern cities for sites in their area is bound to be strong.

Sir David insisted both phases of HS2 could be delivered for £50 billion. He had carried out an “exhaustive review” of the costs and would continue to resist the temptation to reduce contingency fees in the budget.

However, he raised doubts about the cost benefits of a £500 million link in London between HS2 and HS1 and the Channel Tunnel. Sir David noted that passengers on HS2 trains arriving at Euston would only have to travel one stop on the underground to reach HS1 at St Pancras if the new link was not built.

Legislation for the first phase of HS2 is still passing through Parliament and will not be approved until after the 2015 General Election. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has pledged to review the cost of the scheme and said he would not sign a blank cheque.

Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh confirmed today that Labour will vote for the Second Reading of the HS2 bill.

She added: “We welcome David Higgins’ important report and his strong focus on the  steps the government needs to take to get High Speed 2 back on track and ensure value for money. For too long David Cameron’s government has been mismanaging this  project, which is why we raised concerns last year.

“We support HS2 because of the capacity constraints too many commuters on  our railways face and will vote to support the hybrid bill at second reading when the government finally brings it to parliament. As always we will continue to hold the government to account for keeping costs down on the project as the bill progresses because there can be no blank cheque.

“David Higgins has made it clear that there are significant savings to be made if David Cameron gets a grip of this project and stops all  these delays. The government must now act so this scheme can be  delivered under budget.

On phase two, we are glad that more work will be done to link HS2 with  future rail investment and that the greater focus we have been calling  for on connectivity between our northern cities has replaced the government’s previous take it or  leave it approach. That is how we ensure the maximum benefits for the  whole country from this project while we pressure the government to keep the costs down.”

Sir David said HS2 was “vital for the future of the country” and said it could be “a catalyst for fundamental change”.

He added: “The cost and impact have to be recognised and acknowledged, but so too do the cost and impact of doing nothing. Without HS2, the people of this country will continue to face the failures of our transport system on a daily basis.

If his plans to speed up phase two were adopted, he said, “it would deliver the benefits of HS2 – in terms of better services to the north – much sooner”.

His plans appear to have some support from the Government. Business Secretary Vince Cable told the Observer newspaper yesterday that there was “a compelling case” to speed up the extension of HS2 northwards.

Business leaders in Birmingham  welcomed Sir David’s report.

Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “The plan to build through to Crewe as part of the Phase 1 London to Birmingham work looks very sensible. Importantly, this will reduce the environmental impact of the build for Lichfield and the surrounding area – something that has been a worry for our businesses in that part of the region. So this is very good news.   “The wider region will also benefit from the released capacity and we urgently need HS2 and Network Rail to move soon to full and comprehensive consultation on the best use of the spare capacity that will be created once the new line has been built.

“It is vital to the West Midlands economy that we stich in this spare capacity to maximise services for both passengers and freight locally. In some cases, the frequency and punctuality of local services will be transformed.”

 

 

Cover Image: “Visualisation – Manchester Piccadilly station” – HS2.org.uk

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