The Department of Transport declares “full speed ahead” on new Midlands-London link and says construction will start in spring
The hybrid bill enabling phase 1 of high speed two (HS2), the new rail line that will eventually link Leeds and Manchester to Birmingham and thence to London, has received Royal assent after three years of scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament. This marks the beginning of the active phase of the project, and the Department of Transport said that schemes to allow compensate communities along the route will now open for applications, and that construction will start within the next few months.
Secretary of state for transport Chris Grayling said that Royal assent for the hybrid bill was a major step in relieving congestion on the railways. It would “improve connections between the biggest cities and regions; generate jobs, skills and economic growth and help build an economy that works for all,” he claimed. “We will now press ahead with constructing the railway while continuing to ensure affected communities get appropriate support and are treated with fairness, compassion and respect.”
David Higgins, chairman of HS2, was keen to highlight how the project will boost industry. “This journey will see businesses right along the route benefit from greater access to the skills, markets and professional services they need to succeed in today’s global market,” he said. “It will directly create some 25,000 jobs as well as forcing the pace of innovation in the construction industry.”
Engineering company Alstom struck a similar note. “At Alstom, we live and breathe high speed rail and it is clear to us that HS2 is the most important investment in Britain’s railways for over 100 years. It will bring huge benefits to passengers. But even more crucial is the legacy of skills, apprenticeships and jobs it will create, all over the country,” said UK and Ireland MD Nick Crossfield , who added a hint that his company would like to share this bounty: “With the widest range of trains and infrastructure solutions on the market, Alstom stands ready to help make this brand new railway a reality.”
Compensation schemes now launched include a homeowner payment scheme, for property owners between 120 and 300m from surface or near surface sections of the line, who can apply for payments of £7500, £15,000 or £22,500 depending on distance; two funds totalling £40m, one of which will improve access to countryside, improve community facilities and conserve the natural environment near the route, while the other will help alleviate local disruption to businesses; and a £30m road safety fund for areas not accustomed to construction traffic.
A countervailing note was added by the campaign group Stop HS2, which unsurprisingly was not pleased by the announcement “The fight against Phase 2 of HS2 will continue, but on Phase 1, as all these things come to pass, all we can look forward to is saying ‘We told you so’,” said campaign manager Joe Rukin. “We are stuck with it because vested interest groups lobbied for it and created political momentum which made it too embarrassing to cancel. Quite simply this is a terrible project which will not deliver on its promises, come in years late, miles over budget, create havoc during construction and have disastrous environmental consequences.”