Monday, 17 March 2014

Osborne Backs HS2 Fast-Track Plan

The chairman of HS2 has called on politicians to accelerate the construction of the high-speed line to reduce the £50bn cost of the project.

In a new report, Sir David Higgins has proposed a fast-tracked building timetable for the northern, phase two, section of the highly controversial project.

His plans have been given the backing of George Osborne, who said Sir David's plans to build a new hub at Crewe would help to create more growth and rebalance the economy.

Currently the scheme's first phase, which will see a new line connect London to Birmingham, is set for completion in 2026.

The second phase, which will take the line in a Y-shape to the North West and North East, is due to be completed around 2032/33.

But now Sir David said building work on both phases should be started at the same time and the second phase completed six years earlier than planned - by 2027.

In addition, he said the line should stretch 43 miles further north than planned, to a new transport hub at Crewe in Cheshire.

He also proposed a brand new station at London Euston, but added that plans to link HS2 with HS1, the London to Kent Channel Tunnel high-speed rail link, should be reconsidered.

Sir David believes speeding up the project would help keep costs under control because it would reduce uncertainty and limit the impact of inflation.

Vince Cable at the Lib Dem conference Mr Cable supports Sir David's proposals because of 'economic benefits'

The current whole-line cost, including contingencies, is £42.6bn, with £7.5bn for the trains.

Mr Osborne said: "Sir David's proposals would see huge benefits delivered to the North six years sooner than planned through a new hub at Crewe, creating more growth and rebalancing the economy in line with our long-term economic plan."

He added: " ... HS2 is essential to the future of this country and will help fulfil the Government's long-term plans to create a balanced and more competitive economy across the UK. But we must be conscious of the price, and there will be no increases to the overall spending envelope set for HS2 at the last spending review."

Business Secretary Vince Cable has also expressed support for Sir David's proposals, saying there was clearly a "compelling argument" for speeding up the project.

But shadow chancellor Ed Balls is concerned about the costs warning that under a Labour government there would be "no black cheque" for the project. Other former Labour grandees have also spoken of their reservations about the scheme.

Sir David cautioned that "this project is too big to become a political football".

Anti-HS2 groups have also cast doubt on the possibility of bringing forward the phase 2 work while the revamped Euston plan was seen as merely bringing "more wealth and work into London".

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