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PM backs rail plan

HS2 gets green light and splits opinion on benefits

HS2 train

High speed trains do not have universal support

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link will be built, despite spiralling costs and claims it will cause irreversible environmental damage.

The first phase will complete the line connecting London and Birmingham, with a second phase extending to Manchester and Leeds.

After receiving a report by Douglas Oakervee looking into the project the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in the Commons that he would restore discipline to the project after estimated costs escalated from £56 billion to more than £100bn.

The completion date to Leeds has been put back to 2040, suggesting any further extension to Scotland is at least 30 years away.

Previous studies have shown that HS2 to the north of England will diminish the economies of areas such as northern Scotland and south west England.

However, Scotland may not miss out entirely. It will mean the project to build high speed trains at Longannet is more likely to go ahead. Spanish firm Talgo denied its plans for a 1,000 jobs plant on the former power station site were conditional on HS2, but it will not do the project any harm.

We are going to get this done, and to ensure we do so without further blow outs on either costs or schedule

– Boris Johnson

Mr Johnson told parliament: “The cabinet has given high speed rail the green signal.

“We are going to get this done, and to ensure we do so without further blow outs on either costs or schedule, we are taking decisive action to restore discipline to the programme.”

Mr Johnson  said he will appoint a full-time minister to oversee the project and criticised the HS2 company’s management of the scheme.

“I cannot say that HS2 limited has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities. The cost forecasts have exploded, but poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project.”

The decision divided opinion between those who felt it was a bold and decisive statement about Britain’s future, and those who felt it was destructive of natural habitats. Some argued that it will not achieve the economic benefits that have been claimed.

Welcoming the decision, Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:  “The Prime Minister’s decision to back HS2 is exactly the sort of bold, decisive action required to inject confidence in the economy. It sends the right signal around the world that the U.K. is open for business. 

“HS2 shows the government’s commitment to levelling up the nations and regions of the UK. The project will bring jobs, new homes, skills and investment to the areas of the country that need them most.

“Once built, HS2 will bring much needed capacity to our railways and help to realise the government’s promise of an ‘infrastructure revolution’ for the North, Midlands and beyond.

“The time for debate over HS2 is over and the time for delivery is now.”

TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, also welcomed the announcement. He said: “Our union welcomes this announcement and we have said from day one that HS2 is vital not only to build much needed capacity on our railways but as a clean and green means of connecting and turbo charging economies across the Midlands and the North.

“Nearly half of Britain’s population will be linked by HS2 services around Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London but I say directly now to Johnson – grasp the nettle – and commit to taking HS2 all the way to Scotland.  

“Frankly there should have been no Oakervee and no bending the knee to short-sighted Tory backbenchers focussed only on their own backyard.

With the predicted costs ballooning to £106bn, the costs are now likely to exceed the benefits

– Richard Wellings, Institute of Economic Affairs

“This is about creating a high-speed rail network which will see an historic shift of freight and passenger travel from roads to rail – hopefully all the way to Glasgow and Edinburgh – which will see passengers transfer from domestic flights and in so doing cut our carbon emissions and fight climate change.”

Dr Richard Wellings, head of transport at think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, was “deeply disappointed” over the decision. He said: “With the predicted costs ballooning to £106bn, the costs are now likely to exceed the benefits.

“The project is highly unlikely to transform the North in the ways that have been promised. Investment in alternative schemes – such as incremental improvements to existing infrastructure in northern towns and cities – would deliver far larger economic gains.” 

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said the decision will give the Prime Minister the “dubious honour of being this century’s largest destroyer of irreplaceable ancient woodlands in the UK”.

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