BRITAIN’s policymakers must hold their nerve and ensure the Government’s flagship rail project, HS2, arrives in Leeds by 2033, according to the man in charge of delivering the project.
Mark Thurston, the chief executive of HS2 Ltd, acknowledged that projects like HS2 divided opinion “but we are building a railway for 100 years”.
Mr Thurston also said that HS2 could help to encourage more women and people from ethnic minority groups to take up careers in engineering.
He made the comments when he visited Leeds-based Soil Engineering Geoservices which is one of a growing number of companies across the UK that are working on the HS2 project.
The company has spent four years investigating ground conditions for construction of the Birmingham to London route.
Last week, the Rail Minister described claims that the northern stages of HS2 will be scrapped as “nonsense” amid fears that the Government is planning to scale back the project because of its mounting costs.
Andrew Jones said cancelling any part of the flagship rail scheme connecting London to Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham would be a “betrayal of the North”.
Mr Jones said some 2,000 business had already been handed contracts for HS2, which is due to operate its first trains in 2026 and arrive in Leeds by 2033.
Mr Thurston told The Yorkshire Post that HS2 would have a transformative impact on Yorkshire’s economy.
He added: “Our current target is to have the second phase completed by 2033, which we accept is a long time away. That creates other challenges for us, because we have got to maintain momentum of this programme for the next 14 to 15 years.
“But nevertheless, we are building a railway for over 100 years, here for the next generation.”
He added: “That’s the prize that we mustn’t lost sight of and that’s why it’s important that we as a country hold our nerve and see this through to completion.
“We have to remember that these big projects do divide opinion, particularly in their early stages. There are lots of examples over the last 20 to 30 years where major transport schemes (like) the Channel Tunnel, the Channel Tunnel rail link and the M25, at a point in their development, there were different opinions about the merits of them.”
However, once they were completed many people believed it would have been “unthinkable” not to have carried out these projects, Mr Thurston said.
Mr Thurston said he had held talks with Coun Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council and Tom Riordan, the council’s chief executive.
He added: “There is a lot of appetite and energy in Leeds to have high speed two come here to the city and we will certainly work together with regional authorities as we do with central authorities to make sure that happens.”
Mr Thurston believes the HS2 project could encourage more people to take up careers linked to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
He added: “We have the high speed rail college not far from here in Doncaster and the other campus is down in Birmingham. Our expectation is that we will bring several thousand apprentices and graduates through high speed two during the life of the project.”
“It’s going to leave an economic legacy for the country.”