HS2 route emerges as con­tracts awarded

Deals worth £6.6bn defy high-speed rail plan crit­ics Min­is­ter to has­ten line’s north-west spur to Crewe

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Gwyn Topham Trans­port cor­re­spon­dent

The HS2 high-speed rail­way will take an­other step for­ward to­day with the award of ma­jor con­struc­tion con­tracts and the con­fir­ma­tion of the route north of Birm­ing­ham through York­shire.

Con­tracts worth about £6.6bn and sup­port­ing 16,000 jobs will be an­nounced for civil en­gi­neer­ing pro­jects in the first phase of HS2 be­tween Lon­don and Birm­ing­ham, in­clud­ing tun­nels and bridges.

The fi­nal route for the sec­ond phase, the Y-shaped con­nec­tions with Manch­ester and Leeds, will also be con­firmed, in­clud­ing changes to the orig­i­nal pro­posed route around Sh­effield. Plans for a ded­i­cated HS2 sta­tion at the city’s Mead­owhall shop­ping cen­tre were op­posed by Sh­effield coun­cil­lors, and the gov­ern­ment is now ex­pected to say the line will fol­low a slower rail line through the city cen­tre.

The trans­port sec­re­tary, Chris Grayling, will also pub­lish a bill to pri­ori­tise phase 2a of HS2, build­ing the line more rapidly as far as Crewe. This could mean a con­nec­tion fur­ther north on the west coast main­line by 2027, six years ear­lier than first en­vis­aged, en­abling quicker jour­neys to the north-west and Glas­gow.

Grayling said the con­tracts were “a hugely im­por­tant step in the con­struc­tion of Bri­tain’s new rail­way and un­der­lines this gov­ern­ment’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­liver an econ­omy that works for all”.

David Hig­gins, chair­man of HS2 Ltd, said: “HS2 was al­ways de­signed to be much more than just a high-speed rail­way and to­day we can see the op­por­tu­ni­ties it brings right around the coun­try – spread­ing pros­per­ity, act­ing as a cat­a­lyst for in­vest­ment and re­bal­anc­ing our econ­omy 10 years be­fore the rail­way even opens.”

Op­po­nents of the scheme claimed the gov­ern­ment was dras­ti­cally un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the cost, and that con­struc­tion was al­ready de­layed. The over­all bud­get was re­vised up to £55.7bn, but es­ti­mates drawn up this year on be­half of Lord Berke­ley, the Rail Freight Group chair­man, who had ar­gued at se­lect com­mit­tees for al­ter­na­tive HS2 routes out of Lon­don, sug­gested it could be as high as £111bn.

Stop HS2 cam­paign man­ager Joe Rukin said: “The cost of HS2 has al­ready dou­bled once since it was first pro­posed, so it should come as no sur­prise to any­one that it might dou­ble again. With it be­ing so ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one who lives in the real world that there are so many far more im­por­tant pri­or­i­ties for pub­lic spend­ing, it seems ut­terly in­sane that the gov­ern­ment are still wed­ded to this vain­glo­ri­ous van­ity project and all its false prom­ises.”

The De­part­ment for Trans­port said that, con­trary to some claims, no re­port it had com­mis­sioned showed ris­ing costs. A spokesper­son said:“We are keep­ing a tough grip on costs and the project is on time and on bud­get at £55.7bn.”

The first ma­jor prepara­tory work for HS2 is start­ing around Eus­ton sta­tion this sum­mer, in­clud­ing the clo­sure of a pub­lic park and de­mo­li­tion of hun­dreds of homes on neigh­bour­ing es­tates, as lo­cal res­i­dents are braced for up to a decade of dis­rup­tion. High-speed trains from Lon­don to Birm­ing­ham are due to start run­ning in 2026.

‘It seems ut­terly in­sane that the gov­ern­ment is still wed­ded to this vain­glo­ri­ous project’

Im­age: Grimshaw Ar­chi­tects/PA

The pro­posed HS2 Lon­don ter­mi­nus at Eus­ton, north Lon­don, where prepara­tory work starts this sum­mer

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