The announcement that the whole of the HS2 infrastructure project will proceed as planned will be welcomed by many in the development industry.
The decision to proceed with the entire project is described by some as affirmation of the government’s commitment to create a “levelling-up” of the economy across the country and to make investment in the regions more attractive and less London-centric.
It also shows clear intent on the part of the Prime Minister that he wants to repay those voters in the north of England for helping him secure a substantive Conservative majority in the Commons; enabling him to deliver on promises made pre and post-Brexit.
What works have been announced?
The London to Birmingham section and spur from Birmingham to Crewe will start immediately and indeed much of the groundworks have already been carried out. Speculation that there will be further stations on the London - Birmingham limb (for example in north Buckinghamshire) has been shelved for now.
The sections from Crewe to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds will be delayed while a six-month review is undertaken to identify areas where costs can be saved and also to allow time for discussions around whether the route of the line and location of stations will be changed. These sections are not due to open to the public until 2033 in any event.
Are other non-HS2 works included within the announcement?
Yes, HS2 is an ambitious and very expensive project and commuters/travellers will not see any real benefits in increased capacity and improved journey times arising directly from the project itself for many years.
To that end, the government has announced a separate package of measures designed to ensure that HS2 is both part of an integrated transport system and to invest in other forms of transport infrastructure. These include:
- work on an integrated masterplan for rail in the north, led by the National Infrastructure Commission, entitled ‘High Speed North’;
- a £5 billion investment over the next five years in acquiring 4,000 new eco- friendly (hydrogen) buses and commitment to increasing the number of bus lanes to give passengers an accessible and reliable alternative to other modes of transport; and
- improvements to cycleway infrastructure. This is to be based, it would seem, on the London model, so if all goes to plan expect a cycle superhighway in your region soon.
For those opposed to HS2 the environmental impact and spiralling costs (now estimated to be £106 billion) associated with a project that will be paid for by all, but not accessible to all (at least initially), will never be justifiable.
However for “Brand UK”, in a post-Brexit world, the decision to proceed with HS2 and announce additional investment in other modes of transport infrastructure sends a clear message that the UK remains ambitious and is open for business (it is with some irony of course that one of the major benefits of HS2 was seen as the potential to improve our transport links to Europe).
The introduction of more varied and reliable forms of sustainable transport modes also plays well in addressing concerns arising from climate change.
Ultimately, today’s announcement is welcome news for investors and developers in the regions. The West Midlands has already seen a significant increase in investment, development and commercial activity on the back of HS2 plans. It is no secret, however, that investment in major housing schemes and other projects has been paused during the current review period, particularly in those areas identified for regeneration. That investment is now set to continue with the announcement today as investors finally secure the certainty that HS2 is back on track.
For those living and doing business further north, the Prime Minister’s announcement that HS2 and Highspeed North are not ‘either or’ projects will be very welcome. The hope must be that the six-month review period is used to ensure that HS2 fits seamlessly with High Speed North and that work on the latter begins as soon as possible if the government is to deliver the public transport revolution it has promised.