HS2 work ‘will continue to progress’ despite concerns over rail line’s future

Works on the HS2 Handsacre link “will continue to progress”, the transport secretary has said, in spite of ongoing regional and financial concerns.

Transport secretary Mark Harper made his comments in the Commons earlier today (Thursday) after Conservative MP Theo Clarke (Stafford) asked him: “I welcome the government’s commitment to railway reform, but the secretary of state will know from my recent meeting with the rail minister that my Stafford constituency is heavily impacted by the construction of HS2 and we have always been promised that there will be economic benefits for Stafford through the Handsacre link.

“Given the recent push to find savings in this project, concerns have been raised that the Handsacre link will be scrapped. So, can I ask him to confirm this will go ahead?”

Harper replied: “Whilst our priority is to deliver the opening stage of HS2 on schedule and for high-speed services to commence from Old Oak Common to Birmingham Curzon Street between 2029 and 2033, I have been clear that construction works on phase one, north of Birmingham from Delta Junction to Fradley, and including works at Handsacre, will continue to progress.”

Responding to estimates yesterday of the long-term costs of delays to HS2, Harper later said: “HS2 is a transformational project and the government remains fully committed to building the line from Euston to Manchester. HS2 is being delivered in stages with cost estimates published for each phase of the programme.

“We remain transparent on the emerging cost position of HS2 and we publish six-monthly reports to Parliament. The recent announcement will clearly require us to work through adjustments for certain phases and we will provide updated estimates in due course including through those six-monthly reports.”

Yesterday, Harper insisted that extending HS2 from Old Oak Common in west London’s suburbs to Euston in the centre of the capital “remains the government’s commitment” despite “very significant challenges”.

He told MPs: “There have been some very significant challenges there about the design work that was undertaken. It was significantly ahead of the budget that is available and that’s why I’ve taken the decision to pause construction of that project.

“There is going to be some cost involved in demobilising the work there and leaving the site in a sensible way for the next couple of years that is sensible for people who live in the area.

“Then we’re going to go back and look at coming up with a more cost-effective design for Euston.”

He added: “The commitment to take HS2 to Euston remains in place and the timing of that will mean that that is delivered when we have the line open to Manchester and my understanding from having interrogated officials is that’s when the volume of passengers will require the service to go all the way to Euston. So that remains the government’s commitment.”

Harper also accepted that the delays in completing HS2 will not actually save any public money. He told MPs that the government had to make “sensible decisions” due to having annual budgets.

It was announced in March that construction of the Birmingham to Crewe leg of the high-speed railway will be delayed by two years and services may not even enter central London until the 2040s.

Harper told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee: “In itself, delaying delivering something doesn’t save money. But of course it does reflect the fact that you have a budget in each year, everybody listening to this has to live within their annual budget, as well as a budget over time.

“We’ve had to make some sensible decisions about how you make those decisions. For me, the choice was very clear. There’s a section of the project which we have fully mobilised. We’ve got contractors building it, spending a considerable amount of money on phase one (between London and Birmingham).”

He added: “Delaying the later aspects of the project, it’s much more cost effective to do that because you don’t have contractors on site, you aren’t already building the railway and you can change the timing of that in a much more sensible way.”

A budget of £55.7bn for the whole of the project was set in 2015. However, the target cost excluding the eastern leg of Phase 2b from the West Midlands to the East Midlands has ballooned to anywhere between £53bn and £71bn (in 2019 prices), with an expectation that the final cost may in fact exceed even the higher figure.

Harper said he had been “very clear” with the board of HS2 Ltd about the need to “deliver the project to the budget that has been set”.

The high-speed line was due for extension between Birmingham and Crewe between 2030 and 2034 to help boost transport in the north of England.

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Original Source: https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2023/04/hs2-work-will-continue-to-progress-despite-concerns-over-rail-lines-future/

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