WATCH: Transport Secretary – “We will make a go, no go decision by the end of the year”

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WATCH: Burnham promises ‘almighty fight’ if Johnson tries to scrap HS2

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Johnson won’t scrap HS2, but his review could make a big offer to the North

This week’s newspapers carried the intriguing suggestion that Boris Johnson might re-order the construction of High Speed Two so that the railway’s northern sections are constructed first.

The new review of HS2 ordered by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is theoretically empowered to make a decision on whether or not to proceed with it at all.

Yet whilst the idea of scrapping it altogether will strongly appeal to many activists and MPs, there doesn’t appear to be any real expectation that this will happen. It would certainly be an unusual start for a Prime Minister with a track record of enthusiasm for high-profile infrastructure projects, and key political supporters of the project such as Andy Street are on the commission.

One might perhaps expect Dominic Cummings, who has been quoted as calling HS2 a “disaster zone”, to perhaps drive a move against it. But as he attempts to overhaul the Government and prepare the country for a no-deal exit from the European Union in the autumn, it’s unlikely he’ll have the bandwidth to imprint himself as totally on the Prime Minister’s agenda as some myth-makers might suggest.

Shifting the order of construction, on the other hand, might be more plausible. At present the London-to-Birmingham stretch of the route is slated to open in 2026, with the northern extensions not expected to be running until 2033.

Lord Forsyth, who chairs the House of Lords Economic Committee, has warned the Government not to allow cost overruns on the southern leg of the line to leave insufficient funds to complete the northern sections, which would connect Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

This warning might chime with Lord Berkeley, a “railway expert and Labour peer” who has been appointed as deputy chair of the review. Berkeley is a strong critic of HS2, repeatedly challenged Department for Transport’s figures and warning about spiralling costs.

Building the northern stretch of the line first would be a big offer, in both practical and symbolic terms, to the North of England – no small consideration for a Prime Minister who, as a former Mayor of London, might risk being viewed as capital-focused. It could also open up the possibility of embarking on ‘HS3’, otherwise known as Northern Powerhouse Rail, sooner, or even extending the high-speed network to Scotland… and beyond?

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Iain Dale: Were the Prime Minister to pull the plug on HS2, would he call time on Heathrow expansion too?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

I have very mixed feelings about HS2. I am usually all in favour of visionary transport infrastructure projects. I rather liked the idea of the Boris Island Airport, and still regret that he didn’t make it part of his leadership campaign. I also think high speed rail is a good thing.

However, I still don’t think the business case for HS2 has really ever been properly made.  Capacity is clearly an issue on parts of the West Coast main line, but it seems to be the Manchester trains which suffer, rather than the Birmingham ones.

The Prime Minister is clearly minded to cancel the whole project, and hopes that the review announced this week will give him political cover. Quite how he will explain the waste of upwards of £7.2 billion I don’t know, but presumably the saving of a further £80 billion will be used to show how other parts of our transport system could be improved.

Of course, if HS2 is cancelled, one would quite reasonably wonder whether the third runway at Heathrow might be next on the list for a prime ministerial cull.

– – – – – – – – – – –

A new Kantar poll puts the Conservatives on 42 per cent, with Labour trailing on 28 per cent and the Brexit Party on only five per cent. The Liberal Democrats were constant on 15 per cent.

So, a 14 per cent lead for Johnson. Is this a “Boris bounce”? None of the other polls have shown a lead anything like this big, so everyone should treat with a huge degree of scepticism. But since it is widely believed that there will be a general election by the end of November, this is not a bad place to start from.

But as ever, a Conservative election success surely relies on us leaving the EU on October 31st. If we don’t, quite a few of those per centage points will be shaved off by Nigel Farage.

– – – – – – – – – –

Talking of Farage, he has made clear that, if the Prime Minister signs up to any form of deal with the EU, the Brexit Party will stand candidates against every Conservative candidate up and down the country. The only way to avoid that would be for us to leave on 31 October with no deal.

That outcome seems ever more likely as each day and each exchange of letters with Donald Tusk takes place. But as with Farage, I have a feeling in my water that the prospect of a last-minute deal hasn’t entirely disappeared. Yet.

The purists may hate it, but in the end, we have surely to remain of the view that a good deal is better than no deal. The trouble is that few can see what would actually constitute a good deal from the UK viewpoint. We can all see what a bad deal looks like, of course. But how we get from that to a good deal is anyone’s guess. –

– – – – – – – – –

 

The ‘N’ key to my laptop has come ustuck. Makes me thik a ew computer may be i order. I could stick it o agai , I suppose. But where’s the fu i that?

– – – – – – – – – –

This is my first and only week’s holiday of the year. I’m spending it in Norfolk doing nothing at all – apart from writing this, and two other columns.

And watching box sets. I’ve finished Designated Survivor on Netflix and have now started the Korean version. I’m quite used to watching programmes with subtitles, but normally I can pick up a few words of the language. Not Korean. It’s almost impossible to follow.

I’m also reading Andrew Roberts’ brilliant thousand page biography of Winston Churchill. I always find these doorstops of books incredibly intimidating, mainly because I normally only read before I go to sleep, and therefore only manage three pages a night. So I’m pleased I’m already on page 200. Right, time for another chapter…

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Boris Johnson accused of launching ‘despicable’ HS2 review for political ends

Boris Johnson is cynically raising doubts over the future of HS2 in order to shore up support ahead of a general election, the country’s former National Infrastructure tsar has warned.

Lord Adonis, who is also a former transport secretary, condemned the Prime Minister’s decision to launch a major review into the high speed rail link, insisting it will lead to “significant delays and added costs” to the scheme.

The Department for Transport announced on Wednesday that it will hold an independent review into “whether and how” the Government will proceed with the 250mph railway connecting London and the North.

Review a ‘despicable decision’

Led by Douglas Overtree, a former chairman of HS2, the review will examine the benefits, affordability and scope of the vast project, who will report back to the Prime Minister in the autumn.

But Labour peer Lord Adonis, who chaired the National Infrastructure Commission until 2017, attacked the decision to stage a review as a piece of “politicking” by Mr Johnson.

“It’s a despicable way to run a major infrastructure project. You can’t write an in-depth review into something like Hs2 by the autumn. It will only add delays and costs to the overall project,” he told i.

“If you look at the make-up of the committee, it is stuffed full of people who are either very pro-HS2 and those who are utterly against it. Johnson is trying to be all things to all people. This is more to do with securing support from his base ahead of a general election,” he added.

Andrew Adonis
Andrew Adonis (Getty)

Lord Adonis said the scheme will likely go ahead once a general election was out of the way, meaning the review would create needless costs and delays to the project.

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Boris Johnson hints he may scrap HS2 over spiralling costs

Mr Johnson has previously called for HS2 to be scrapped, and has come under significant pressure from the Conservative grassroots to abandon the scheme, which runs through swathes of Tory heartlands.

During the Tory leadership campaign, he said it was sensible to have a review but stopped short of calling for it to be halted.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC that the Government would “not just carry on ploughing more money” into HS2 just because it had already spent significant sums on the scheme.

“So we need to have a look at HS2, we need to make sure that it is under control, that the money is being well spent, if that is the way we go,” he added.

‘Uncertainty and confusion’

The review has been supported by Labour, but there are concerns over its terms of reference, particularly suggestions that the line could terminate at Old Oak Common, rather than Euston station.

Latest estimates have placed the expected cost of HS2 at between £75bn and £85bn.

HS2 rail route
HS2 rail route

Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham raised fears the review could add “uncertainty and confusion” to the future of the scheme.

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said HS2 is a “vital project to help rebalance the economy and make us more productive”.

Joe Rukin Campaign Manager of Stop HS2, said: “If this is to be a genuine review as to whether to go ahead or not with the project, the government must cease all works immediately, because damage to irreplaceable habitats and ancient woodland is happening as we speak.”

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HS2 review: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says Government under no obligation to ‘keep ploughing money’ into rail route

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the Government is under no obligation to “keep ploughing money” into the high-speed rail project HS2 after a review was announced of the infrastructure project.

The planned project, first linking London to Birmingham and then extending to Leeds and Manchester, has come under increasing scrutiny over spiralling costs.

The Government has announced that it is commissioning an independent review into the project to explore its merits and to see if costs could be reduced.

‘Ploughing more and more money into it’

Grant Shapps refused to rule out scrapping HS2 (Photo: BBC)

Mr Shapps told BBC News: “Just because you spent a lot of money on something should not mean that you just carry on ploughing more and more money into it.

“But what we’ve said and what Prime Minister made very clear during his leadership election is we want to see great infrastructure in this country, we want to see it stack up, we want to see it work for, you know, rail commuters, people right across the country.

“So we need to have a look at HS2, we need to make sure that it is under control, that the money is being well spent, if that is the way we go.

“And that is actually going to provide the benefits that the country wants. Until we’ve done that I can’t preempt the answer, until we’ve carried out that investigation.”

HS2 factors

HS2
High-speed rail HS2 (Photo: PA)

Former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee will lead the inquiry, with Lord Berkeley – a long-term critic of the high-speed railway scheme – acting as his deputy.

The DfT said the review, due by the autumn, will consider a number of factors relating to HS2, including its benefits, impacts, affordability, efficiency, deliverability, scope and phasing.

When pressed  on whether the project could be scrapped entirely, Mr Shapps said: “Well, clearly, you are going to look at something from scratch and you’re going to take into account all of the costs and all of the benefits… starting with a blank sheet, then of course the outcome could be any of these things.

“We want to build great infrastructure. That’s exactly our purpose. We believe in building infrastructure for the future. It’s got to be the right infrastructure. It’s got to be beneficial, for everybody, not just along the route, but for the whole of the United Kingdom.”

Cost reductions

An artist's impression of Birmingham's Curzon HS2 station (Photo: Grimshaw Architects/PA Wire)
An artist’s impression of Birmingham’s Curzon HS2 station (Photo: Grimshaw Architects/PA Wire)

The review’s terms of reference state that it will consider how much “realistic potential” there is for cost reductions by amending the scope of the project, such as reducing the speed of the trains and making Old Oak Common the London terminus “at least for a period”, instead of Euston.

It would also look at further changes to the route, including building only Phase 1, between London and Birmingham,  combining Phase 2a – extending the line to Crewe – with Phase 1 and altering plans for Phase 2b, which currently involves taking the line to Manchester and Leeds

The DfT said limited, largely preparatory work on the project will continue in parallel with the review.

The launch of the review comes amid growing concern that HS2 cannot be built to its current specification within the £55.7 billion budget.

A recent Financial Times report stated that HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook wrote to the DfT warning the final bill could reach as much as £85 billion.

The feared price hike is believed to be due to various factors including engineering costs, poor ground conditions, underestimating the cost to purchase land and property, and the expense of running trains at up to 225mph, which is faster than comparable projects.

‘The debate has gone round the houses too many times’

The Y shaped HS2 line will take place in three stages of development. (Source: Department of Transport)
The Y shaped HS2 line will take place in three stages of development. (Source: Department of Transport)

Industry groups, who support the project, criticised the review, which is the latest in a long-running debate around the project.

The Confederation of British Industry’s director of infrastructure, Tom Thackray, said: “The business message on HS2 is clear-cut – back it, build it, benefit from it. The debate has gone round the houses too many times.

“While it’s always helpful to review major projects like HS2 to ensure that value for money is delivered, the business case is well known.

“The approval of HS2 Phase One led to record levels of Foreign Direct Investment in the West Midlands, with more than 7,000 new jobs created in Birmingham as a direct result of HS2, and over 100,000 more. We have seen and are continuing to see similar benefits right across the proposed route.

“We firmly believe that committing to HS2 in full, once and for all, will spread the flow of investment across the Midlands, the North of England and into Scotland. The current poor connectivity in the North is a major obstacle to encouraging companies from growing in the region and is a barrier to inward investment.”

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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Andy Street: Making connections to change our region

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

When the Prime Minister gave his first speech at the Manchester Science and Industry Museum on July 27, he spoke of the “basic ingredients of success for the UK”.

He spoke about culture, liveability, responsibility in power and accountability – but the subject that resonated most with the experiences of the West Midlands was his belief in the power of connections.

He said: “Inspiration and innovation, cross fertilisation between people, literally and figuratively, cannot take place unless people can bump into each other, compete, collaborate, invent and innovate.”

The West Midlands provides a case study for the UK in how connectivity can transform an area by linking its communities, its geography, its businesses and its people. In the UK’s most diverse region, this commitment to connection is a key part of the new Urban Conservatism we are building here, which is winning support.

In a region spread across the seven boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton, connectedness has been vital in building a sense of unity. Most obviously, huge investment in our transport network is allowing our communities to physically meet.

But as the Prime Minister said, connectedness isn’t just about tramlines and buses, it’s about encouraging the sharing of ideas to drive growth – and it’s as old as the hills.

Successful city states – going back to the Italian Renaissance and beyond – flourish by bringing people together to drive social and economic progress through greater understanding and innovation. The lesson of history is that places that unite different cultures to distil their ideas and harness their ambition are successful, be it 18th century London or 20th century New York.

Here, that ambition means connecting an increasing number of economic hotspots. From the cluster around the NEC known as ‘UK Central’ to the massive Phoenix 10 brownfield reclamation scheme in the Black Country, the resurgent economy in the West Midlands is creating jobs that require connectivity. Investment in public transport is building an arterial network taking people – and their ideas– into these centres of opportunity.

But the real lesson of the West Midlands story is how we are learning to connect people, not places. The Mayor’s Community Weekend, for example, brought tens of thousands of people together over 165 events through a partnership between the West Midlands Combined Authority and the National Lottery Community Fund. A hundred workplaces joined in with the Mayor’s Giving Day, encouraging charity in all forms. My Faith Action Plan brings together different faiths. We are even connecting the generations through my Cricket Cup at Edgbaston on September 8, which will see grandparents and grandchildren take the field together.

In such a diverse place, these soft social initiatives solidify to bind the connections we make, simply by getting involved. The alternative to connectedness is isolation, which breeds intolerance. It’s critical to stand against intolerance of any kind, whether it’s racial, religious or the kind of schools protest against equality teaching we have seen in Birmingham.

We are also making great strides in closing divisions in our communities to improve social mobility. In 2007, 20% of our young people left school with no qualifications, a figure that has been brought down to 11% through retraining in areas like digital and construction, and growth in modern apprenticeships.

That’s being helped by a unique feature in the West Midlands – the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Scheme, which allows us to spend the unused apprenticeship levy paid by big firms more sensibly. Closing skills gaps like this is another way that we promote connectedness across and within our communities.

Connectivity in a more literal sense can be achieved through technology. I was encouraged by the PM’s commitment in his candidacy to speed up the roll-out of Fibre Broadband across the country. This kind of quick expansion is vital if we are to ensure that no areas are left disconnected from digital opportunities through under-investment.

However, with 5G coming first to our region, we aren’t prepared to wait for connections to spark innovation. Just a few weeks ago a ground-breaking trial here hinted at what can be achieved with 5G, when we linked local ambulances to doctors in A&E in real-time. The same technological connectivity is driving our automotive sector in its ambition to become the UK capital of driverless vehicles.

Sitting as we do at the heart of England, the West Midlands is positioned to benefit from the Prime Minister’s ambition to better connect the nation and rebalance the economy. As the PM said, “We need to literally and spiritually unite Britain, and that means boosting growth and bringing our regions together.”

To me, there is no greater instrument for this ambition than HS2 – the single piece of investment that will unlock millions of pounds of transport and housing infrastructure our region desperately needs.

Sites like the new tram line from East Birmingham to Solihull are indelibly linked to HS2. We have a target to ensure local people are never more than 45 minutes from a HS2 station, and schemes such as reopening closed railway lines and the impressive Sutton Coldfield Gateway have been meticulously planned around this major investment by the Government to sew our country together. Without it we are definitely poorer.

Connections need to be international too. As Michael Heseltine pointed out in this report ‘Empowering English Cities’, which was commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority, the underperformance of our major cities on the world stage is a critical problem that must be solved if we are to balance our economy.

However, this does not mean adopting an adversarial position to competing city regions like Rotterdam, Lyon, Frankfurt, Milan, Chicago and Sapporo, it means ensuring that we have the global connections to take in the best ideas and turn them to our own advantage.

This crucible of cultures concept is the very purpose of the civic university, and you will not find a better example than Chamberlain’s University of Birmingham – which is why our universities must, post-Brexit, continue to welcome International students. They literally connect us to the world and the ideas developing beyond our shores.

Travel opportunities are also important in nurturing our global position. Birmingham Airport has its sights set beyond the Brexit horizon with continued growth in passenger numbers. Work is due to start on its T18 project – named because it will create a terminal that can handle 18 million passengers a year, a rise of nearly 40% on the previous record, achieved in 2017.

HS2 makes this project even more important, as the airport will only be 38 minutes away from Euston, much quicker to get to from North London than both Heathrow and Gatwick.

Finally, I consider my own role as Mayor of the West Midlands to be one of connectivity. Overseeing a region where Labour control the majority of local authorities has meant that my job has often been about providing the glue that holds us all together, encouraging teamwork. In the UK’s youngest, most diverse area, this Urban Conservative approach is paying dividends politically as we attempt to make more of our constituent authorities Conservative.

This kind of inclusive Conservative leadership is where the party must be – and we are looking to Prime Minister Johnson, as the former Mayor of Britain’s mega city, to understand this and follow it through in Government. The Prime Minister will know what a Conservative Mayor in an urban region can achieve through physically connecting people – whether it’s through social connections, transport connections or digital connections – and I hope he will be considering how we can replicate this across the country.

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