Consensus building over HS2, says CEO

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A POLITICAL consensus is building around the need for a new high speed rail network connecting the North of England with London, a Yorkshire business audience was told.

Alison Munro, the chief executive of HS2 (High Speed Two), told the CBI Yorkshire and Humber annual dinner that the planned high speed network linking London and the North offered a once in a lifetime opportunity for the region.

HS2 has developed detailed route proposals for the first phase of the route from London to the West Midlands, and the company is also working on plans to develop routes for a second phase, which would run to Manchester and Leeds.

Ms Munro told the dinner, which was held at Leeds University: “A project like High Speed Two is always going to be controversial. It’s the biggest infrastructure project in Europe and it’s impossible to do it without it being controversial.

“It is very expensive and that obviously provokes a debate about whether this is the best way of spending the money. However well we design it, and we try to design it with great care, we will have impact on people where they will have to demolish the houses and we will run past communities and they will suffer some noise, in some cases.

“There are always those sorts of challenges. But we’ve come an enormous way in the last year in terms of building consensus and cross party support for High Speed Two and that was demonstrated recently. We have in Parliament a bill for the first phase, the London to Birmingham phase, which is currently being considered..

“That key debate on the principle of High Speed Two was overwhelmingly positive. That’s fantastic support in Parliament, and what was really interesting in that debate was how many MPs who spoke, their support was conditional on High Speed Two going beyond Birmingham, it’s getting the benefits to the Northern cities which is so important to so many MPs.

“We are in a good place. We have got cross party support; strong support. Nevertheless, we’re moving towards an election next year and nothing can be absolutely guaranteed.

“We need to keep building on the support that we have..This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“The opportunity is massive. We need to get it right, but we also need to make the absolute most of it.”