This is entry number 19 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Network Rail published plans on Wednesday for a high speed railway from London to Scotland. Today’s entry looks at what they propose and contrasts it with the government-backed High Speed 2 scheme.

High speed rail appears in this blog because if it is wholly in England and is promoted by anyone other than the government, it would have to use the new authorisation regime under the Planning Act 2008. Railways are one of the 16 types of nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) that come within the new regime, and rather than a physical size threshold, a railway is an NSIP if it cannot rely on permitted development powers (i.e. the system where minor development is deemed to have received planning permission without having to apply for it). The government could also use the new regime, but would be able to authorise the railway by Act of Parliament as it did for Crossrail and High Speed 1, the then Channel Tunnel Rail Link (while remembering to disapply the new regime to avoid committing an offence when it came to be built).

If the line went to Scotland, however, it would almost certainly have to be authorised by an Act of (the Westminster) Parliament, either hybrid (if promoted by the government) or private (otherwise).

Click here for image

Rail’s route runs from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh (with a fork to each) and is shown on the diagram. The only station on the direct route is at Preston, but there are spurs to Birmingham, Manchester, Warrington and Liverpool. The stations would be located ’close to the principal existing city centre stations’, which suggests that they would not actually be at existing stations. The London station would be somewhere with easy access to St Pancras. NR concluded that the line should not go through or from Heathrow as this reduced cost-effectiveness. It also decided not to visit Leeds and Newcastle, which it says could be the subject of a (separate) north-east high speed line.

The overall cost would be £34bn for a line that could be completed ten years from now. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England has already complained that not enough of the route is in tunnel and that the Cotswolds and the Lake District will be unnecessarily damaged by it.

This proposal should not be confused with the government-sponsored proposal that is to come from High Speed 2 Ltd for a line from London (including Heathrow) to the West Midlands and options to points north of that. HS2’s chairman Sir David Rowlands issued a somewhat terse statement that he welcomed Network Rail’s ‘useful contribution to the much more detailed work that HS2 is doing’. Network Rail boasts that it has spent ‘20,000 man hours [on a] 12-month study, running to over 1,500 pages of research, modelling and analysis, [that] looked in detail at the case for a new route’, which will take some beating. HS2 will produce a confidential report for ministers to consider by the end of 2009, and if the government decides to take the project forward, public consultation will occur in 2010.

Pressure group Greengauge 21 has been pressing for not just one more high speed rail line, but a network along up to five corridors. Bircham Dyson Bell advised them on consultation and the statutory processes that would need to be used for the various options. Follow the link above to find their reports.

The impetus for further high speed rail lines has grown hugely from a standing start less than two years ago, when railways were not even included in the first version of the Planning Bill, as it was not thought that any national rail projects were likely in the foreseeable future.

It will be interesting to see how the National Networks National Policy Statement (NPS), due to be published this autumn, deals with high speed rail, and in particular whether it is sufficiently specific to exclude Network Rail’s proposal in favour of High Speed 2’s.