If today’s announcements had come from a standing start, the industry would doubtless have been pleased with the investment. But the reality is they represent a reduction in the previous plans for both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
HS2 is the single most important infrastructure project in the UK for decades. Its benefits to the country are enormous and will be felt by generations to come.
The new high speed rail links, which will change the nation’s economic geography, are one of the very few ways to spur levelling up outside of the South East, which the Government say is their number one priority. The economic impact of high speed rail is not based on crystal ball gazing, but on the evidence we see from countries all over the world, and indeed in the UK. The impact it is already having in Birmingham on the back of existing commitments to construct Phase 1 of HS2 is clear. And the same will happen in other cities once businesses and local authorities truly believe the Government will follow through on its commitments to deliver HS2 to those places.
High speed rail is also the most effective way to deliver more electrified rail capacity for the nation’s longer distance travel needs, and in turn reduce transport sector emissions to deliver on net zero.
It is welcome that the Integrated Rail Plan confirms that the vast majority of HS2 will go ahead, in addition to other upgrades including line of route improvements, some electrification, and some new lines, but the cut-backs are a huge disappointment, particularly to the communities they affect and particularly given the commitment to deliver HS2 “in full” which has been made by the Prime Minister countless times over the last twenty-one months.
This u-turn significantly dents confidence in the sector. The regular chopping and changing of the scope of projects, and revisiting questions that had previously been settled, is one of the biggest drivers of high infrastructure costs in this country – It is imperative that the Government now set out clear timescales for the proposed projects to move forward, and then stick to them.
It remains important that the benefits of high speed rail should not be restricted to two corridors in England (HS1 & HS2), and that Government sets out how the rest of the UK is to be provided with improved connectivity and viable modal shift to low carbon rail for longer distance travel – both for people and freight.
High Speed Rail Group will be analysing the proposed new HS2 and IRP routes, and will publish our conclusions in the coming weeks.