The prime minister has given England’s controversial high speed rail link the “green signal” despite widespread concerns from environmentalists and politicians about the £106 billion HS2 project.
Boris Johnson told the House of Commons he is committed to the two sections of the project that will link Birmingham with London, Manchester and Leeds, and announced an extra £5 billion for buses and cycle routes as part of a “transport revolution.”
The costs of HS2 have spiralled massively from the original 2012 budget of £32.7bn. The first official revision of the budget in 2015 predicted £55.7bn that was revised again in 2019 to £88bn and has now soared to the reported £106bn forecast by the Oakervee Review.
Johnson said the official independent review had made the “clinching case” for HS2 to go ahead and that the “exploding costs” of the project are outweighed by its “fundamental benefits”, reports the Telegraph.
PM’s ‘controversial and difficult decision’
The PM admitted the decision was “controversial and difficult” and tried to reassure MPs and opponents by announcing the appointment of a minister to oversee the project, while criticising the HS2 Ltd company’s management to date.
“I cannot say that HS2 Limited has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities,” said Johnson. “The cost forecasts have exploded, but poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project.”
The PM told MPs: “Our generation faces a historic choice. We can try to get by with the existing routes from north to south, we can consign the next generation to overcrowding and standing up in the carriages, or we can have the guts to take a decision, no matter how difficult or controversial, that will deliver prosperity to every part of the country.”
HS2 – the ‘bold, decisive action required’, or an ‘albatross round the government’s neck’?
Business leaders welcomed the widely expected HS2 decision with the CBI’s chief UK policy director Matthew Fell hailing it as “exactly the sort of bold, decisive action required to inject confidence in the economy”.
However, Johnson is facing a backlash from his backbenches with many Tory MPs opposing the decision. Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Lecistershire branded HS2 as an “albatross round the neck” of the government and called the project “unloved, unwanted and grossly mismanaged”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, said: “The Labour Party supports HS2 as a means to boost regional economies and slash climate emissions. It is essential for boosting rail capacity and freeing up other lines”.
He added: “But we don’t see why the government should get a slap on the back for announcing it is going ahead.
“After all, it’s only because of the abject failure of successive Conservative governments to keep on top of the costs that the project’s future was in any doubt.”
Environmentalists slammed the decision with Friends of the Earth campaign director Jamie Peters, saying: “HS2 is a costly and damaging mistake which will threaten wildlife, destroy ancient woodlands and do nothing to reduce climate-wrecking pollution.”
£5bn for buses and bikes
The prime minister set out a raft of other regional transport policies in today’s statement to the Commons, promising an extra £5billion will be spent on buses and cycle routes over the next five years.
The “transformation of the nation’s bus services” will see the government buy 4,000 zero-emission “British-built” buses “as part of plan to bring a ‘London standard’ of service to the rest of the country”, reports the Telegraph.
This means “more frequent services, better routes and cleaner vehicles” and includes fare caps and increased “turn up and go” routes where the frequency of buses negates the need for timetables.
The Telegraph says: “Mr Johnson hopes the extra money for buses over the next five years – a 50 per cent increase on local transport spending in England – will help to appease opponents of the £106bn HS2 scheme”.
HS2 – delays to Europe’s largest infrastructure project
HS2 is the largest current infrastructure project in Europe and will triple train capacity across the entire route, according to the Department of Transport.
However, it is already massively over budget and delayed given Phase 1 (between London and Birmingham ) was due before the end of 2026, and Phase 2 (connecting Manchester and Leeds) was due in 2032-33.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said in a written statement to Parliament in September last year that it could be 2028-31 before the first trains run on Phase 1 tracks, with Phase 2 pushed back to 2035-40.