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Extend HS2 to Manchester and Leeds, transport committee warns

There is a good business case for a high speed rail link between London and Scotland according to a House of Commons Transport Select Committee report issued today.

MPs stated that although there is a good business case for high speed rail running the length of the UK, the committee is concerned that the lines won’t reach Manchester or Leeds for more than 20 years.

The HS2 scheme is expected to cost £32bn and has attracted opposition for its cost and proposed route from London to Birmingham despite being backed by both the former Labour and present coalition governments.

Although backing plans to start construction between London and the West Midlands, it calls for new ideas including building lines from the north down, or the Scottish government progressing a high speed line to connect to the English network in due course.

The report also finds that claims that HS2 would deliver substantial carbon-reduction benefits “do not stand up to scrutiny”, but that it will produce less carbon than an expanded motorway network or greater domestic aviation in the event of increased demand for inter-urban travel.

It states: “Investment in HS2 must not lead to reduced investment in the ‘classic’ rail network. We are concerned that the government is developing separate strategies for rail and aviation, with HS2 separate from both. We call again for the publication of a comprehensive transport strategy.”

Trade bodies have welcomed the report, however Association for Consultancy and Engineering chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin warned against the report creating delays as the UK’s infrastructure standards slip.

The report calls on the government to publish a summary of the financial case showing how the project is affordable as well as its priorities for expenditure in the next Network Rail control period for 2014 to 2019.

The Rail Freight Group wrote to the former transport minister Philip Hammond outlining the case for HS2 being about vitally needed capacity and not speed of travel between London and the Midlands.

Chairman Tony Berkeley said: “We very much welcome the committee asking that the option to start from Manchester and Leeds should be investigated (rather than a South to North approach), since the congestion on existing lines is greater there.

“The committee also asks that the links in London be looked at again; that must include a link from HS1 to HS2 that does not use a short section of the North London Line which is already very congested by London Overground and freight trains.”

The report also recommends:

More information about the Y network (to Leeds and Manchester) such as the location of stations and environmental impacts should be published and strategically appraised before a final decision on HS2 is made.

A full assessment of the case for building from north to south should be carried out as a priority.

It is disappointing that a major strategic scheme is being designed and assessed to a large extent based upon the value of travel time savings, which are not universally accepted. This issue should be addressed in the updated economic case for HS2 with the implications for scheme design made explicit.

The Government needs to make clear how HS2 fits into its wider aviation strategy, looking again at the case for a direct link to Heathrow in phase I on the assumption that the high speed rail network will extend to Manchester and Leeds.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association director of external affairs Alasdair Reisner said: “CECA recognises the significant benefits that can be delivered to the UK by high speed rail, and believes that such a network could significantly contribute to growth.

“But HS2 must not be built on the back of new cuts to transport investment. The country should make additional funding available for such a project, rather than sucking money away from existing projects, which will themselves play a vital role in supporting growth in the U.K. economy. We hope the government will commit itself to this recommendation.”

CECA also welcomed the call for a single cohesive transport strategy for the UK, stating it wished to see greater clarity and consistency in relation to the way in which the transport networks are upgraded and maintained.

ACE chief executive, Nelson Ogunshakin said: “ACE has been following this inquiry closely and we are pleased with the committee’s respectful approach to the views of all concerned. The potential for investment in high speed rail as a driver of economic growth is well established and the UK should not lose out.

“To get the best economic value from this kind of investment, government should look at all schemes surrounding it that help to maximise local benefits and prospects for growth. This could see the creation of a national utility carrier corridor to generate additional economic benefits and improve the net local value of the project.

He added: “However, while a strong economic case for HS2 has been established, there can be a risk that new reports create new delays at a time when the country has slipped in World Economic Forum figures to 28th in the world for infrastructure standards.” 

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