- By Region
Plans to build a high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham and the north will get the tentative backing of a group of MPs on Tuesday despite concerns about the government’s lack of a transport policy and questions about the economic and environmental impact of the £32bn project.
“We believe that there is a good case for proceeding with a high-speed rail network, principally because of the substantial improvements in capacity and connectivity that it would provide,” a report by the transport select committee into the High Speed 2 project will say.
But the report hits out at the government for failing to frame the project as part of a wider vision for the transport system. “The biggest single transport investment proposed in this Parliament should be grounded in a well thought-through strategic framework and we are disappointed that the government has not developed a strategy for transport,” it says.
It also raises doubts about the economic rationale used to justify the scheme and the refusal of the government to commit to the project from the outset. In the first phase, which the government is expected to approve before the end of the year, the line will be built between London Euston and Birmingham at a cost of £17bn. It is due to open in 2026.
In the second phase, which goes out to public consultation in 2014, the line splits north of Birmingham in a Y-shape with lines running on to Manchester and to Leeds. These lines would open by 2032 at the earliest.
The report expresses disappointment that much of the economic rationale was based on time savings – the proposed 250mph lines would cut the journey from both Leeds and Manchester to London to 80 minutes – and called on the government to address the issue. The government has argued the time savings would produce a large economic benefit and that, with overcrowding getting worse on the existing West Coast main line (the country’s busiest), a high-speed line would release much-needed capacity for freight and commuter services.
Critics of the scheme welcomed the report, saying it exposed “fatal flaws” in the business case, which had failed to consider “viable alternatives” and had used “inflated” productivity gains. Jerry Marshall, chairman of the Action Groups Against High Speed Two, said the report “simply leaves the case for HS2 in tatters”.
Supporters of the rail link hailed the report’s overall support for the scheme. “This is a victory for jobs in the north and the Midlands, and the moment the naysayers were proved wrong,” said Dan Large of the Campaign for High Speed Rail.