This is entry number 28 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

You wait ages for a high speed railway and then three come along at once. First, government-backed High Speed 2 Ltd was given the job of selecting a route for a high speed railway from London to the West Midlands, and options for extensions northwards. This will be reported confidentially to the government by the end of the year and then will be opened up to consultation early next year if the government thinks it worth pursuing – and we know it, or more specifically the Secretary of State for Transport Lord Adonis, does.

Then, on 26 August, (as reported on this blog), Network Rail announced the results of its own research into a second high speed railway (the first being High Speed 1, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link).

pressure group Greengauge 21 has announced (here) that it supports a network of high speed lines. The core of this is a western London-Birmingham-Glasgow/Edinburgh line with spurs to Manchester and Liverpool, but also an eastern London-Cambridge-Nottingham-Sheffield-Leeds-Tees Valley-Newcastle line. The latter line will also reach Edinburgh, but will be slower for a section in south-east Scotland as being more cost-effective. The proposed network is shown in the attached diagram - Greengauge seems to have won the graphics war with Network Rail. The price tag for the first line it proposes – the western one – is £19bn, compared with £34bn for Network Rail's route. This suggests that pricing such projects is more of an art than a science.

As mentioned previously, since only railways in England are within the scope of the Planning Act 2008, any high speed railway that crossed the border with Scotland would not be a ‘nationally significant infrastructure project’ (in the legal sense) and would have to be promoted by means of an Act of Parliament. The proposed trans-Pennine route, however, would be able to use the new authorisation regime. I say ‘would be able to’ because, even though the new regime is mandatory for the projects within its scope, it could be overridden by the government if it chose to authorise something by an Act of Parliament.

High speed rail has leapt from being an also-ran in the Planning Act (railways were not included in the first version of the Planning Bill) to the Secretary of State for Transport’s top priority, where it is likely to leapfrog the new authorisation regime altogether.