“Sir David Higgins’ big challenge was the political pressure to reduce the forecast of the current £50.1bn estimated cost of HS2. The most remarkable thing about the report is that he resisted that pressure, refusing to reduce the budget by even a penny. On Phase 1 he has made no commitment to reduce the time to deliver the project either. Instead he has laid down a challenge to the Government and the country to embrace an even bigger vision, with better links between Manchester and Leeds, a new rail interchange hub at Crewe, and wholesale redevelopment at Euston. And he has passed back to Government the problem of the impact on Camden of the proposed HS1 – HS2 link.
“Sir David’s report also represents a stepping stone to the conclusions of the HS2 Growth Task Force, which are expected shortly. The Task Force was set up last year to advise the Government on how to use HS2 to drive the growth of our regional economic centres. It is about winning hearts and minds by setting HS2 in the context of an overall economic aspiration for the country. It is about finally confronting the north-south divide by investing as much in the Midlands and the North as in London or (as Evan Davis aptly put it in the title of his recent TV documentary), it’s about ‘minding the gap’ by looking to boost the economic growth of our major cities outside London.
“It seems inconceivable that the Chancellor will fail to at least refer to HS2 during his budget speech later this week. It will be interesting to see whether he will commit now to programmes of wholesale regeneration in the areas around HS2’s major stations, projects which would create a raft of work across the country for the construction industry, release land for housing, and support business investment in what will be essentially economic development zones.
“In many areas the Chancellor may be inclined to keep his powder dry for the next election manifesto, but on HS2 his colours are already firmly nailed to the mast. Getting the country ‘HS2-ready’ is both shrewd politics in the short-term and a good visionary platform.”
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