AS soon as the Queen’s Speech confirmed the Government’s intention to proceed with a ‘paving Bill’ for HS2, ahead of the detailed hybrid Bill to authorize phase one, the opponents all chorused this was necessary because the HS2 project was “over budget” and “behind schedule.”
The HS2 Action Alliance (which is appealing to raise £100,000 to pay for an appeal against a recent Judicial Review that gave clearance for the scheme) claimed: “The paving Bill will not enable a single mile of track to be constructed or a new train to be ordered – just provide even more money to be spent on consultants.”
And Stop HS2 campaign manager, Joe Rukin, said: “HS2 Ltd has lost all budgetary control of the project and all the Government want to do is give them a blank cheque to carry on with complete disregard to both due process as soon as possible.”
How interesting, then, that the first draft legislation to be published following the Queen’s Speech is the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill – and that its primary purpose is to commit future governments and parliaments to continue with developing a national high speed rail network, so addressing the concerns of many, including the Labour Opposition, that the Hybrid Bill, due to come before MPs in December, will only deal with phase one from London to Birmingham and a re-connection to the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield.
The paving bill is only a very short one, and the details cover less than two pages. But the contents are highly significant.
The Bill says the Secretary of State for Transport, with Treasury approval, may incur expenditure “in preparation for a high speed railway transport network” (note the word ‘network’) involving the construction of lines connecting “at least” London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Sheffield, Leeds, and Manchester (in other words the full HS2 ‘Y’ system), and connecting “with the existing railway transport network.”
The Bill also allows for the Transport Secretary to incur expenditure on “preparation for the construction of any railway line and any other infrastructure proposed to be included at any time in the (HSR) network,” and “preparation for the provision of services as part of that network.”
The expenditure permitted includes “pre-construction activity (such as surveying and design), in acquiring property, and in providing compensation in respect of property likely to be affected.”
That is pretty clear then – the Government is keen to crack on with building HS2 as soon as possible and to ensure it doesn’t just stop with phase one.
“The Bill will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons in June and we expect that the debate will be key for the Government in getting cross-party support and a show of Parliament’s will to deliver a national high speed rail network,” said Alex Burrows – a former senior planner at Centro, the West Midlands transport authority, and now Head of Transport and Infrastructure at Insight Public Affairs. “We expect the Hybrid Bill for Phase 1 to come before Parliament at the end of 2013 and for it to deliver authority to commence construction by 2017.”
Paul Chapman from HS2 Ltd has also given a very clear statement of HS2 Ltd’s plans to work with the cities and regions to deliver economic growth and local transport improvements to ensure HS2 is integrated into long-term local growth plans.
A Growth Task Force will be established later this year to ensure cities are “HS2 ready,” he explained, adding that HS2 Ltd is bringing forward work with Network Rail to plan for how the released capacity on the existing network can be best used for new passenger and freight services.
Alex Burrows said that proceeding with HS2 will now create several tangible benefits:
– The opportunity for a large number of jobs during construction of HS2, especially in engaging with a significant supply chain that will reach across the country;
– The chance to provide a large workforce with a range of valuable skills and to create a huge number of apprenticeships – current and previous infrastructure projects have created a skilled British workforce who have become a valuable UK export;
– The certainty and confidence, with a developing national High Speed Rail network, that can enable businesses to plan for the long term to secure a crucial pipeline of infrastructure work.
Alex Burrows added: “The real issue at stake on high speed rail comes down to being able to clearly communicate what the project is and the benefits it will bring. The rest of the world is building (or has already built) High Speed Rail networks because their role and value is agreed and proven.
“But in Britain we are seeing a battle being waged over perceptions rather than facts.”