This is entry number 32 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

This morning Sir David Rowlands, Chief Executive of High Speed 2 Ltd, spoke at one of our popular ‘business breakfasts’ and set out the current government-backed programme for developing a second high speed railway in the UK. This is the official route development in contrast to the unofficial proposals from both Network Rail and Greengauge 21, as previously reported, and also Northern Way.

They have nearly narrowed the route down to a single preferred option from London to the West Midlands and although the route itself is still confidential, it will be within a lozenge bounded by London, Milton Keynes, Birmingham and Oxford. It will therefore have to cross the Chilterns somehow, which may be unpopular. When the route is reported to the government by 31 December this year, it will be to an accuracy of plus or minus 25m in rural areas, and even less in urban areas, so fairly exact. The report will still be confidential at that point, and the government may or may not choose to publish HS2’s report next year, but if they don’t, it will probably be extractable by a request under the Freedom of Information Act. There will be a report and around a dozen supporting documents. The report will attempt to be compatible with government policy of whatever type so that the project is not unduly derailed by a general election.

Beyond the West Midlands, HS2 will report on options for going further north, but at the level of corridors rather than routes. The government are paranoid about causing blight to landowners on routes that are later discarded, which was a significant factor in the development of High Speed 1, which is I think why they are being very precise south of Birmingham and quite vague north of it. They are looking at wider implications than just the route – a 15 train per hour, 1100 people per train, service will have considerable people-handling impacts. The route will be future-proofed to some extent to allow trains of up to 400 km/h, when current technology is only beginning to allow trains faster than 300 km/h.

The route may be promoted under the Planning Act 2008, or it may be via a hybrid Act of Parliament, as was the case for HS1 and Crossrail. One government department favours one method, another favours the other (can you guess which?). Either way, they are working to ensure compatibility with the ‘National Networks National Policy Statement’ under the Act, expected next month. My guess is that the NN NPS will be vague while being compatible with high speed rail, and a more specific supplementary high speed rail NPS will be published later. This is perfectly possible under the Planning Act.

What Sir David did not say was what the preferred route would be. My prediction is that it will go from London Euston, via one of Milton Keynes and Birmingham International, to Birmingham New Street, with a spur to Heathrow. Whatever the route is and whatever the outcome of the 2010 general election, it seems that HS2 is on the way.