Yesterday the government unveiled the first draft of the northern continuation of the high speed railway currently planned from Euston in London to the West Midlands. The railway will split into two fingers, running from east of Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, of lengths 95 miles and 116 miles respectively, known as High Speed Two phase two (HS2.2?).
Tagged on to the end of the announcement, the government decided to delay a decision on whether phase one should link to Heathrow airport from west London until after the Davies Commission has reported on UK hub airport capacity in 2015.
The railway will cost £33.1bn and is planned to open in 2033. Yesterday's announcement did not coincide with the launch of a public consultation - that will come later in the year, but earlier than originally intended. A consultation was launched, however, on the details of an 'exceptional hardship scheme' for HS2.2 (i.e. to compensate those with an urgent need to sell their properties in advance of the project), which will close on 29 April.
The best document for details of the project is probably this one, but here's a summary.
As with phase one, the main route for each finger will rejoin the main line and will have a spur before that running to the major conurbation in question. The western finger will only have stations on the spur, at Manchester Airport and a new station adjacent to the existing Manchester Piccadilly, but there will be a crossover onto the existing West Coast Main Line at Crewe, which will allow trains to run to Liverpool.
By contrast, the eastern finger will have two stations on the main line: one midway between Nottingham and Derby at Toton ('East Midlands hub') and one at Meadowhall shopping centre between Sheffield and Rotherham. The Leeds spur will end at a new station in Leeds at New Lane, across the River Aire from the existing station.
The western finger will join the West Coast Main Line at Abram south of Wigan, and the eastern finger will join the East Coast Main Line at the wonderfully named Ulleskelf south of York. It is not clear whether the connection to the main line for phase one near Lichfield will still be used.
Journey times will of course be cut. Euston to Manchester Airport will take 59 minutes, only 9 minutes longer than it takes from Euston to Heathrow on public transport. Journeys north beyond the high speed lines will be cut by 30-45 minutes.
In a Parliamentary debate on the announcement yesterday, Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin said that he would try to 'make progress' on the timetable, i.e. look into speeding it up. The debate had contributions from a large number of MPs - over 60 - who generally supported the principle, wanting high speed rail to run near, but not through, their constituencies. The route does run through the Tatton constituency of Chancellor George Osborne.
Phase two will be authorised by means of a hybrid bill in Parliament rather than using the consenting regime under the Planning Act 2008. The project is clearly a nationally significant infrastructure project in the ordinary sense of the phrase, but the government prefers the additional flexibility available to it that only a Parliamentary bill can provide. There is no more detail on timing than that the bill would be brought forward during the 2015-20 Parliament, although the BBC website gives 2018 as the date for a bill.
Meanwhile, the London to West Midlands section of the route, which we must now call 'phase one' - HS2.1 - is also due to be authorised by means of a hybrid bill in Parliament. The bill is planned to be published by the end of this year.
How can you get involved in the authorisation process? Like planning applications and development consent order applications, there is a process where affected organisations and individuals can make their views heard. Representations can be made in either House of Parliament (or both) and are known as petitions. Petitioners are then invited to argue their cases before a committee of MPs or peers.
Petitions are in a special form and can either be submitted by the organisations or individuals themselves, or they can employ parliamentary agents to do so. There are a small number of permanent parliamentary agents ('Roll A'), but others can become temporary ones for a particular bill ('Roll B'). The petitioning period for HS2.1 is likely to be early next year following the second reading of the bill.