High speed trains could be up and running by the end of the decade, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.
He confirmed that the HS2 high speed rail line will go ahead – saying: “Today the Cabinet has given High Speed Rail the Green signal. We are going to get this done.”
The official announcement puts an end at last to speculation about the fate of the new rail network, which will include two new stations in Birmingham.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said: “If we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade”.
But he also slammed the management of the scheme, which is overseen by HS2 Ltd, a government-owned business. The current managers had allowed costs to shoot up, he said.
It means construction of the first stages of HS2, linking London, Birmingham and Crewe, can now begin. Mr Johnson said there would be a review of the second phase of HS2, which extends the line to Leeds and Manchester, but rather than casting doubt on whether it would go ahead, he said the aim was to bring the benefits of new rail schemes to the north of England faster.
The northern section of HS2 will be integrated with a scheme called Northern Powerhouse Rail, which includes a cross-Pennine line between Leeds and Manchester, he said.
The alternative to HS2 was to “consign the next generation to overcrowding, standing up in the carriageway”, said Mr Johnson.
He attempted to portray HS2 as just part of a nationwide “transport revolution” as he promised “fantastic transport infrastructure to unite and level up across the whole country”.
The Prime Minister highlighted plans to spend £5bn on bus services and cycle routes, leading to more than 4,000 additional “zero-carbon, British built” buses on the roads.
Cyclists will enjoy “hundreds of miles of brand new separated lanes”, Mr Johnson said.
He also highlighted plans previously announced to re-open rail lines previously closed as part of so-called “Beeching” cuts.
It followed a review which considered a range of options – including scrapping HS2 entirely.
What is HS2?
HS2 is a planned new high speed rail line linking London, Birmingham, Crewe, Manchester, the East Midlands and Leeds.
Trains will also run up to Newcastle, although the high speed trains will switch to existing track north of Leeds.
There will be two new stations in or near Birmingham. They include Curzon Street station in Digbeth, near Millennium Point, and a Birmingham Interchange station near the existing Birmingham International rail station in Solihull. This is close to Birmingham Airport and the NEC.
Many local politicians welcome the decision to go ahead with HS2
Most local politicians gave a warm welcome to the announcement.
Birmingham City Council said HS2 would create skills and opportunities, and said the announcement should mark the end of uncertainty around the scheme.
Coun Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “This is not about fast trains – it’s about jobs, skills and opportunities.
“HS2 will free up capacity on the rest of the rail network, improving connectivity within – and importantly between – our cities.
“It will also shift more freight onto rail – an important step towards zero carbon emissions.”
But he said it was essential to build the whole network, including the sections running to Manchester and Leeds
“We will only truly see the full benefits of HS2 when Birmingham and the Midlands are at the very heart of a national network.”
Birmingham Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell said: “This is wonderful news for the West Midlands, Birmingham and the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield.
“In many ways it will underwrite our future economic success, and allow the West Midlands to realise its full potential.
“We should all be enormously grateful to Andy Street, our West Midlands mayor, for the skillful and forthright way he has led and conducted the campaign for HS2 to be built.”
But some people still oppose the planned rail line
While most politicians in Birmingham and the surrounding area support HS2, opponents include Warley MP John Spellar. He said: “Prime Minister Johnson is clearly too scared to be bold and take on his civil servants. They have already wasted £8 billion of taxpayer’s money without any track being laid – and are about to waste an extra £100 billion.”
“My constituents hardly benefit from this decision. Investment is sorely needed in new rolling stock, extra carriages and improved signalling on existing regional train routes – especially in and around the Black Country and West Midlands.”
Kathryn Downs, the Green Party’s West Midlands mayoral candidate, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Government ploughing such a hugely disproportionate amount of money into a project that will ultimately benefit the South East rather than our region. Our creaking local transport network desperately needs much more than the £5bn announced by the Chancellor – £105bn for HS2 is simply a cost too far.
“On top of this, HS2 will be a disaster for ancient woodlands and threatened wildlife. At a time when we know the harm we are causing to nature, there really is no excuse for going ahead. Future generations will look back on this decision in complete bewilderment.”
And campaigners Greenpeace also criticised the announcement, saying HS2 would lead to the destruction of woodland.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “Boris Johnson’s decision to green light HS2 will give him the dubious honour of being this century’s largest destroyer of irreplaceable ancient woodlands in the UK.”
He added: “Over 100 ancient woodlands will be damaged or destroyed along with 33 sites of special scientific interests and hundreds of local wildlife sites.”
Reaction from trade unions and transport authority
Midlands Connect, the transport body serving the east and west midlands, welcomed the announcement and said the rail line must be integrated with local rail schemes.
Midlands Connect Chairman Sir John Peace said: “HS2 is the only shovel ready infrastructure project that can future-proof our rail network, keep rail travel affordable and bring our country together in an environmentally-sustainable way.
“We must now get on delivering this once-in-a-century upgrade of our rail network to level up the economy and unleash the potential of the Midlands and the North.”
Trade union Unite also welcomed the announcement, but stressed that the review of the northern section must not lead to further delays.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The decision to go ahead with HS2 is good news for the economy in general and is an immediate fillip to the construction sector.
“When HS2 was originally proposed by the previous Labour government it enjoyed cross party support, in its vision to better connect London to the North West and Yorkshire, generating a significant boost for business.
“The review of the northern sections of HS2 must not be an excuse for further delays, instead the government must look on how the final completion date can be brought forward, while applying joined up thinking.”