Is it the end of the line for opponents of HS2?
The worst kept secret in politics is finally out – HS2 will go ahead despite being billions of pounds over budget and years behind schedule.
Boris Johnson travelled to the West Midlands to hail a “transport revolution” as he confirmed the controversial line will proceed in full, with work on the first section between London and Birmingham’s Curzon Street interchange expected to start imminently.
“The cabinet has given high-speed rail the green signal. We are going to get this done,” the PM said, adding that he hoped the first trains would be running by the end of the decade.
Phase 2a, which carves through Staffordshire on its way to Crewe, and Phase 2b from Birmingham to Leeds, has been recast as a “regeneration” of transport in the north, with the line to the north west to proceed following a review.
The PM’s announcement came alongside a pledge for an additional £5bn over five years on buses and cycle routes, which he said will result in more frequent services, including on Sundays, simpler and cheaper fares, and new priority schemes to allow buses to skirt traffic jams.
- £32.7 billion: Original budget for HS2 at 2011 prices.
- £88 billion: HS2 Ltd’s estimate of the final bill at 2019 prices.
- 60 minutes: Journey time saving between Manchester and London compared with the fastest existing services.
- 399: MPs voted in favour of the hybrid Bill for Phase 1, while 44 voted against it.
- 300,000: Passengers per day expected to travel when the railway is fully open.
- 48: Maximum number of trains running on the network every hour.
- 30,000: Jobs supported by HS2 at the peak of construction.
- 225mph: Top speed of the trains.
- 345 miles: New high-speed track to be built.
- 38: Age someone turning 18 today could be by the time HS2 is completed, if the plan recommended by HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook last year is enacted.
Mr Johnson, who visited Birmingham with Chancellor Sajid Javid to outline his plans in full yesterday, also pledged improvements to local rail services that would benefit Shropshire, the Midlands and the north.
Mr Johnson said: “This is a fantastic project for the country – it delivers massive increases in capacity for rail.”
He vowed to get to grips with HS2’s “exploded” costs, which could triple to
£106 billion according to the Government’s official Oakervee review.
And he conceded that the project had been poorly managed by HS2 Ltd, which he said has not “distinguished itself” with its handling of local communities impacted by the line. Mr Johnson also announced that a new HS2 minister will be appointed alongside a boardroom shake-up in a bid to “restore discipline” to the scheme.
HS2 has been shrouded in controversy since its inception 10 years ago, having repeatedly bust its budget and provoked concerns over damage to the environment and wildlife.
The announcement by Mr Johnson was met with dismay from people in the village of Woore, near Market Drayton. Woore Parish Council said the decision to allow lorries through the village as part of the work on the high speed rail line would would be “both life changing and indefensible”.
The council said it was concerned with the physical health of its residents due to an increase in pollution, the mental health of villagers due to the increase in HGVs being like “living under siege” and a hindrance to emergency vehicles coming into the area.
It said it was worried about the destruction of the rural environment and the potential for serious road traffic accidents.
Parish Council chairman Mike Cowey said the fight would continue, with the next stage being to petition the House of Lords, which would still be required to approve the relevant legislation. Mr Cowey said re-routing HS2 traffic would reduce the cost of the scheme by several million pounds. He said: “We’re not against HS2 in its entirety, although I think it’s a lot of money that could be better spent.”
He added that it was a 20th century scheme that would be very out of date by the time it was complete.
Gaynor Irwin, vice-chairman of the council, added: “I think we can spend £106 billion plus better in other areas, be it in local rail services, or on the NHS.”
North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson said he was disappointed by the news.
“I don’t believe HS2 is value for this huge sum of money,” he said.
“I would like to see it spent on local transport programmes, and 21st century technology like world-class broadband. The money could be used across the Midlands and the North for better local rail and road schemes, and everybody in every part of the UK are going to see their lives improved economically, socially and educationally if we had world-class broadband.”
The campaign group Stop HS2 has expressed concern that a decision could be made to approve HS2 before the outcome of a Serious Fraud Office investigation, which is believed to be probing allegations of corruption in the award of contracts.
Campaigner Joe Rukin said: “It is now absolutely clear that HS2 is a project that has been promoted throughout by statements that have turned out not to be true, so it’s not unreasonable to want to know if the whole thing has been fuelled by fraud.
“If it is the case that the allegations are true, a decision to go ahead with the project would be sending out a message that it is open season, that scrutiny, that probity, that honesty, that none of those things matter.”
Elsewhere the decision has been met by a mixed response, with HS2 supporters such as West Midlands Mayor Andy Street hailing it as a “once-in-a-generation infrastructure project”, while opponents say it reflects a monumental error of judgement on the part of the Government.
Mr Street, a vocal backer of the project, said the region could now “get on and reap the considerable benefits” but also called for a look at ways to bring the cost down.
“HS2 was always going to be a game-changer for the region, particularly because of the impact it is going to have both on employment and our local transport network,” he said.
“Not only will HS2 create tens of thousands of jobs for local people, but it is also going to free up vital capacity on our local rail network, meaning we can run more reliable and frequent local commuter services.”
The mayor added: “We do need to make sure that we find savings to bring the cost of HS2 down, and we need rigorous management to make sure that we get it built as soon as possible. It has been a hard-fought campaign, but ultimately I always believed the economic case would win through and that the Government would give HS2 the go-ahead.”
Former Labour Transport Minister John Spellar said the move showed that Mr Johnson was “clearly too scared to be bold and take on his civil servants”.
Stone MP Sir Bill Cash says he spoke with Mr Johnson this week urging him to reconsider his decision. He said he had pointed out that the line represents an “economic millstone” which could cost upwards of £200bn.
“HS2 is a disastrous white elephant,” he said. “I have fought against it for years and I will continue to press the case despite this decision”
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant, another long term opponent of HS2, said the PM’s decision was “disappointing”. He said: “I think people in years to come will look back on this project and just say, they could have done it so much better. I for one cannot support it.”