The Treasury’s infrastructure chief has pledged to ensure the North enjoys the benefits of high-speed rail as soon as possible as pressure grows on the Government to speed up the construction of HS2.
Lord Deighton told the Yorkshire Post he wants to see the £42.6bn high-speed line between London, Yorkshire and Manchester “built faster” than the current 15-year timescale, and backed the efforts of HS2’s incoming chairman Sir David Higgins to speed the project up.
Lord Deighton – who along with Sir David oversaw the delivery of last year’s London Olympic Games – was in West Yorkshire yesterday as part of a high-speed rail ‘task force’, which visited Leeds to hear the city’s concerns about the scheme and the route it will eventually take.
Regional leaders made the case for starting the construction of phase two of the project – a ‘Y’ shape line linking Birmingham with Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester – from the Northern end rather than in the Midlands, in order to bring jobs to the region earlier. They also demanded answers about compensation packages for communities which might be affected by the eventual route.
Speaking ahead of the event, Lord Deighton – who is Commercial Secretary to the Treasury – said he was right behind the drive to bring forward the scheme’s projected completion date of 2033.
“HS2 catches enormous benefits – why would we not want to capture them as soon as we can?” he said. “The new chairman (Sir David) has undertaken to look at ways of getting this built faster.”
Asked whether local authority leaders in Yorkshire would be able to influence the precise route of the line, he said: “It’s precisely for that reason that we have the extensive consultation process.
“We can hear all those local concerns and evaluate them, so we can refine the route, look at alternatives, and ultimately come up with what works best.”
Transport bosses in Yorkshire are currently drawing up a ‘shopping list’ of additional rail and road improvements designed to compliment HS2 and ensure every part of the region benefits from the massive increase in rail capacity.
“I am running this task force to make sure we don’t miss any economic opportunities by thinking too narrowly,” Lord Deighton said.
“It’s one thing to sit in London and design the whole thing. It’s quite another to look at it through the Leeds telescope end and make sure we really get it.”
His intervention came as Lord Adonis, the former Transport Secretary who first put forward concrete proposals for HS2 under the last Government, said he believes the project’s huge budget could be cut significantly if the Treasury relaxes rules about the size of its contingency budget.
The new line has actually been costed at £28bn, but the Treasury has insisted the Government include a £14.4bn reserve fund to allow for cost overruns.
Lord Adonis told peers: “Sir David Higgins needs to get a firm grip on management costs of HS2, including the recent increase in the projected cost from £32bn to £42bn – an increase largely due to a sudden and, in my view, hard to justify decision by the Treasury to impose an extra £6bn of contingency on the project.
“HS2 cannot be at any price, and this represents a 50 per cent contingency on the costed design of £28bn. We look to Sir David Higgins to review these costs and to stress-test the figures with some urgency.”
The Labour peer was speaking in the House of Lords, where the first HS2 Bill cleared its final hurdle through Parliament without a vote late on Monday night.
The High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, which authorises the Government to start spending money on preparing the project, will now be sent for Royal Assent and become law. The legislation was backed by 350 MPs to 34 when it cleared the House of Commons this month.
Transport Minister Baroness Kramer said the next stage in the process, the second, ‘Hybrid’ Bill that will allow for the compulsory purchase of land needed to build the line, would be introduced in the Commons on Monday.
The second Bill is far more complex, and is expected to take well over a year to get through the Commons.