Bang the drum for high-speed rail link to North says HS2 boss

HS2 chief executive Alison Munro
HS2 chief executive Alison Munro
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HS2 chief executive Alison Munro has urged northern supporters to bang the drum for high speed rail if they want to ensure the new line comes to Yorkshire.

As MPs prepare to debate the Bill that will give the green light to the first phase of the project following weeks of criticism, Mrs Munro said it was “absolutely vital people who want this to happen make their voices heard”.

She told the Yorkshire Post: ““An awful lot of people who actually benefit from High Speed Two aren’t perhaps having their voice heard.

“We tend to hear the rather vociferous minority sometimes.

“I do believe there is a really strong case for it.

“When you look at what the world would be like if we didn’t build High Speed Two it’s not a very attractive picture and so I think it’s absolutely needed. I think it will happen. What I would really like to make sure is it happens as quickly as possible and for that to happen we do need to
get and maintain political support.”

HS2 has came under fierce attack in recent months with the Institute of Economic Affairs warning the price of the project could almost double to £80bn, the Institute of Directors arguing it will not boost business and a committee of MPs warning of “serious shortcomings” in the economic case made by the Government.

But HS2 chairman Doug Oakervee pointed to the doubts raised by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls as the most significant threat to the current cross-party backing for high speed rail.

Mr Balls used his Labour Party conference speech to ask whether HS2 was the best way to spend £50bn.

Maria Eagle, who gave her wholehearted backing to HS2, was later moved from Shadow Transport Secretary to the Shadow Environment brief raising further questions about Labour’s support.

Mr Oakervee said: “I think we’ve still got the political consensus but its being put under extreme pressure at the moment by Ed Balls.

“The new Shadow Secretary of State from Wakefield, Mary Creagh, she has not indicated a different position from the original. She appears to be very supportive.”

Mr Oakervee will stand down at the end of the year to be replaced by Sir David Higgins who earlier this week said “all options are open” in terms of finding ways of speeding up construction of the line which is not due to reach Leeds until 2032.

Mrs Munro said: “Uniformally we’ve had a strong message from northern cities they would like this delivered even sooner. Clearly there are constraints to what we can do, we have to get the powers to build the railway.

“Within those constraints of course we are interested in what we can do in making benefits happen as quickly as possible.

“We certainly want to make sure we maximise all the opportunities for making sure the benefits happen as quickly as they can.

“If its looking at building and different ways of constructing again we are open to looking at it because if we can deliver it more quickly we can deliver it more cheaply.”

One the most contentious issues facing the project in Yorkshire is the location of the station in the south of the region.

The proposed route includes a station at Meadowhall but Sheffield City Council has been pressing the case for a city centre stop.

Councils have now agreed they will take a fresh look at the arguments for both locations.

Leigh Bramall, Sheffield City Council cabinet member for business, skills and development, said: “At the moment work has been done on the Meadowhall location.

“The same level of work needs to be done on Victoria to make the case.

“When we have done that piece of work we will come to a final decision with the aim of putting forward an unified decision.”