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Tories to make HS2 a 2015 General Election pledge

Tories to make HS2 a 2015 General Election pledge

🕔30.Sep 2013

A fresh commitment to build the HS2 high speed railway from London to Birmingham and the north of England will feature in the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2015 General Election.

Confirmation that a fast rail link from the capital to the West Midlands remains at the heart of Tory thinking came from Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who said that the party would re-state its belief in HS2 by putting the merits of the £50 billion scheme to voters.

His admission that HS2 will be an election pledge is unlikely to impress Conservative MPs in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire who are fighting to stop the line from passing through their rural constituencies.

Mr McLoughlin said he, the prime minister, and the chancellor all remained committed to high speed rail, although he accepted with opposition growing over the cost and necessity of HS2 that it might be difficult “politically” to deliver the project.

At the moment HS2 is backed by a cross-party consensus. However, shadow chancellor Ed Balls has expressed concern about rising cost of the scheme and declared that he would “not write a blank cheque” for high speed rail, although Labour’s official position is still supportive of HS2.

Mr McLoughlin, asked in an interview in the Observer newspaper about the impact of abandoning HS2, said: “I believe it would be a disaster. I believe it would be a particular disaster for the cities of England and Scotland as well, not to go ahead with high-speed rail.

“If you’re concerned about Britain, if you’re concerned about us competing in a global race, if you’re concerned about us helping hard-working people who are trying to get their jobs, who are trying to get business in this country, who are trying to secure investment, I believe HS2 is essential.”

The Institute of Directors chose the eve of the Conservative conference in Manchester to underline its opposition to HS2.

IoD Director General Simon Walker said: “We remain of the opinion that the business case for HS2 is not there. Our members have expressed concern at the project’s value for money, and I note with interest the shift in the national debate as more and more people start to question the viability of building this line.

“There are more effective ways of spending £50 billion and I would urge the government to consider the case for a number of smaller projects spread across the country.”

The Confederation of British Industry has asked the government to re-examine the case for HS2 in the light of soaring cost estimates.

But Britain’s chambers of commerce swung sharply behind HS2 at the start of the Tory conference.

BCC director general John Longworth urged  ministers to ‘show more ambition’ for Britain’s growth prospects – to help transform our economic performance from being merely good to truly great’.

Mr Longworth singled out HS2 as an important infrastructure project, adding: “The government needs to get moving on its promises, rather than just talking the talk. If ministers allow short-term politics and Whitehall obstruction to frustrate the delivery of their growth commitments, our recovery – and our economic future – will be poorer for it, and could be permanently damaged.”

Under current plans, the first phase of HS2 between London and Birmingham will open in 2026, before a Y-shaped second section is added in 2033, going to Manchester and Leeds. Eventually, the line will reach Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Department for Transport’s initial estimate for HS2 was £32.7 billion. But in June the government revised upwards the figure by a further £10 billon to a maximum of £42.6bn, including the cost of rolling stock.

Local government remains firmly behind HS2, particularly in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds where high speed rail stations are expected to help regenerate city centres and create employment.

Sir Albert Bore, the leader of Birmingham City Council and a member of the HS2 Growth Taskforce, said: “New research by KPMG reveals that HS2 will deliver 50,000 jobs and £4 billion of economic growth each year for the West Midlands. The figures show the benefits of connecting Birmingham and London are more than doubled when the region is also linked with Manchester and Leeds.”




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