HS2 boss calls for project to be fast-tracked

Published on Monday, 17 March 2014 10:45
Written by Daniel Mason

Work on the northern section of the HS2 high speed rail line should be brought forward, a report by the man in charge of the project has recommended.

The existing plans would see the high speed rail route between London and Birmingham open in 2026, to be followed by extensions to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.

But Sir David Higgins, head of the £50bn scheme since January, advised that an extension from Birmingham to a transport hub at Crewe should open in 2027, with the Manchester and Leeds links up and running by 2030.

He also said a more ambitious regeneration of Euston station would be beneficial – but called into question the plan to connect HS2 to HS1, the line between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel, potentially ending the prospect of direct services to the continent from cities outside London.

Meanwhile his description of the Crewe hub as the "right strategic answer" dealt a blow to Stoke-on-Trent's bid for a HS2 station to be built in the city rather than its neighbouring town.

Higgins argued that the getting the job done as quickly as possible was the only way to keep costs under control.

He said in the report: "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.

"With it, they will begin to see a strategic answer that can deliver real benefits within the foreseeable future. That is why, I believe, HS2 is a project which, despite the issues it raises, is in the national interest."

A Department for Transport spokesman said Higgins – whose recommendations must be approved by the government – had "set us a challenge, that HS2 can be better and delivered quicker". Earlier the business secretary, Vince Cable, also backed calls for HS2 to reach the north more quickly.

The report was welcomed by the TSSA rail union. Its leader, Manuel Cortes, said: "We need to make sure that the north does not suffer a lost decade of growth while the south east powers ahead of the rest of the country with the lion's share of the budget.

"The £50bn investment must benefit the whole country if it is to help re-balance the economy."

But the campaign group Stop HS2 said Higgins had failed to find any significant savings and, by questioning the link to HS1, reduced connectivity.

The campaign's manager, Joe Rukin, said: "David Higgins has spent three months looking for cost savings for HS2 and he hasn't found a single bean." He added: "In fact all he has done is take off the link to Europe but the costs have stayed the same."

Penny Gaines, also from Stop HS2, said: "Whatever Higgins says in his report about building a Crewe station earlier, he can't get around the fact that the phase 1 hybrid bill currently before parliament does not include the tracks up to Crewe. He might be able to build a shiny new station there, but it won't have high speed tracks going to it."

Labour's shadow transport secretary, Mary Creagh, repeated the party's position that it would offer "no blank cheque" for HS2 and said its support was conditional on keeping the costs down.

"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," she said. "The government must now act so this scheme can be delivered under budget."

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