Published: 23rd April 2014
The controversial High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project could move a stage forward on April 28 when the Hybrid Bill is debated in Parliament.
This follows the new HS2 supremo, Sir David Higgins' “HS2 Plus report” which amongst other things, suggests that the initial construction phase should be extended to Crewe, an extra 42 miles further north than initially planned. But to save money, the link to HS1 and Europe near Euston will be dropped saving £800 million.
The debate will be the first chance for MPs to debate the general principles and themes of the Bill and will also create the HS2 Select Committee which will closely examine the Act and submissions from those interested in the project. After the Act’s First Reading last November, the Government obtained powers to construct and maintain Phase One of the project and triggered the publication of the formal Environmental Statement (ES) and supporting documents.
The HS2 Chairman, the former Chief Executive of Network Rail (NR) Sir David Higgins presented his report to Government in March which included proposals to construct HS2 faster and to accelerate benefits to the north years before originally envisaged. The government said that it strongly supported this ambition and welcomed his report saying that HS2 is vital for the economic health of this country and our international competitiveness.
When Sir David Higgins was appointed to the HS2 project, the Government asked him to review the scheme with a view on how to maximise the benefits while managing costs. It was considered that with his experience delivering the Olympics and running Network Rail for three years, there was no one better equipped for the role.
He has examined the estimated cost of Phase One construction and confirmed he was satisfied the estimates are correct and also suggested any savings made should initially protect the contingency at this early stage in the parliamentary process and the project as a whole. The government supports that stance.
Sir David’s report suggests that to deliver benefits quicker to the Midlands and further north, that the line should be extended to Crewe, 158 miles from Euston, rather than the 115 miles north at Birmingham and the connection with the West Coast Main Line near Nuneaton.
He suggests that the line could be constructed to reach Crewe by 2027, six years sooner than originally planned and to create a new integrated transport hub station there. Crewe has rail connections across the UK and there is plenty of railway owned land there to use. One suggestion for example is that the freight only Crewe ‘Independent Lines’ could be used for HS2.
The Transport Secretary has instructed HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to start work to allow both these proposals to be considered in detail so that he can inform the public consultation responses to Phase Two. Another key recommendation is that NR becomes more involved in integrated decision making so they make improvements to the existing network aligned with HS2 during the five year funding period commencing in April 2019.
The Higgins’ Report scales back the project so far as the proposal for a HS2-HS1 link in Camden which will not now go ahead saving £800 million. The reason given was that the impact on freight, passengers and the community in Camden would be too great. But the Transport Secretary will commission a study into ways to improve connections to the continent that could be implemented once the initial stages of HS2 are complete.
The 1837 built station at Euston was demolished 50 years ago and the current terminus is cramped and HS2 presents what is called by the Government “a significant opportunity to maximise the economic potential of the line and regenerate a site that has been neglected”. He has asked HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to develop more comprehensive proposals for the redevelopment of Euston, working with the rail industry and the local community.
This work should include proposals for re-erecting the Euston arch which he said should never have been knocked down and which he would like to see rebuilt. Much of this was dumped in the River Lea in east London from 1963 onwards and is now regarded as a demolition too far. An account of this is contained in ‘The Full Works’ – a book celebrating the 1837 construction of Euston, the Arch and the railway opening from Euston
A new Euston should join St Pancras and King’s Cross as an iconic driver of local regeneration whose beneficial effects will be felt for generations.
The report author says that he accepted the job as Chairman of HS2 Ltd due to his experience of being Chief Executive of Network Rail for three years and fulfilling the same role at English Partnerships. Network Rail taught him he said that not only are our railways from a different era, they are also congested and increasingly full. In many areas we are at capacity at peak times, and even over it he said.
English Partnerships taught him something else: that without proper transport infrastructure, any attempt to bring jobs and housing to an area will not work. It is the essential enabler for real and lasting regeneration. People have to be able to get to and from their work, and to and from their home. It is a statement of the obvious, but too often forgotten.
He also says that the poor connectivity in the North, in all directions between London, Liverpool and Manchester, Leeds and Hull have direct consequences, not just for the economy as a whole, but for people’s daily experience and aspirations. He believes HS2 can be the start of addressing those issues, if it keeps to a number of key principles. It must:
The report also suggests more work needs to be done on integrating HS2 into the existing rail network and potential improvements to it and be fully integrated into the plans that local authorities across the North are making.
Such a coherent approach would maximise the value to the local and national economies, and be a real catalyst for change in terms of regeneration and rebalancing the spread of wealth and prosperity in the UK. The report proposed that the Government look at how to achieve that coherence and consensus across the region as quickly as possible.
Sir David Higgins talks about the cost in emotional and financial terms and about protecting the environment and writes: “That is why I have rejected any thought that the project should cut back on planned mitigation measures, whether noise or environmental.
The HS2 team undertook what is called an exhaustive review of the projected costs for the first phase of the project and they are satisfied that the £21.4 billion (including contingency) allocated to the Phase One infrastructure project, plus the £3 billion (including contingency) allocated for Phase One trains, is enough to deliver Phase One.
Significantly, Sir David writes that a lower budget could be set when the legislative timetable becomes clearer and more certain as there a direct connection between the length of time the Parliamentary process takes, and the amount of contingency that is required.
As a country, we face a choice. On the one hand is the status quo: ever-increasing pressure on transport, the cost of housing and commercial property in London and the South East; and poor connectivity to and within the North. On the other are the strategic opportunities offered by HS2 and the potential it unlocks.
If done right, HS2 can provide an answer that does stand the test of time, and addresses the issues of congestion in the South and lack of connectivity in the North. 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.
The Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McCloughlin said: HS2 is the most ambitious and important infrastructure project in the UK since we built the M25 30 years ago, and in 30 more it will be just as integral a part of the nation’s prosperity.
Sir David Higgins said; I firmly believe that HS2 is essential for the future of this country, and I recognise the political vision and courage on all sides that have been necessary to get us to this point. I applaud this and do not in any way take it for granted. HS2 will have to continue to earn that support. We have made a good start. Now we must build on it.
The anti-HS2 organisation Stop HS2 is calling for a day of action on April 28th and they are asking supporters to lobby their MPs and put as much pressure on them as possible.
Stop HS2 has organised a demonstration in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament from 12 noon on 28th April and are hoping for a larger turnout than previously to help influence MPs who will be voting at 10pm that evening.
If the Hybrid Bill passes on April 28th, the petitioning period will start the day after. Petitions (queries/questions) must be submitted by hand to Parliament, either by the petitioner, their agent or their MP and the deadlines are May 16 for businesses or local authorities or individuals a week later.