After an internal review, the government has given the go-ahead for construction of the High Speed 2 rail network (HS2) to continue. The project has sparked controversy due to its spiralling costs and delays.
Stage 1 will see the creation of a new line connecting London to Birmingham which should be completed between 2028-31. As for stage 2, which will connect Birmingham to the North including Manchester and Leeds is set to be completed between 2035-40.
1,100 seat-trains reaching 250 mph will run along the lines as often as 14 times an hour in each direction.
Supporters of HS2 say it will improve transport times, increase capacity to match rising demand as well as create new jobs for the economy.
According to the Department for Transport, the journey time from London to Birmingham will be cut from 1 hour 21 minutes to 52 minutes and 1 hour 25 minutes to Leeds, down from 2 hours and 10 minutes.
The government hopes that by improving transport connections between London and the North, HS2 will ‘level up’ the UK economy by boosting growth and encouraging investment, something the region has been severely deprived of at the hands of the government in recent years.
Indeed, leader of Leeds City Council Justin Blake predicts the project “will be transformational for the North.”
However, not everyone is happy with the government’s announcement. Criticism of the scheme has been vociferous. The projected costs have spiralled from £32.2 billion in 2011 to £106 billion in the latest review.
Mismanagement has been blamed for this, something Prime Minister Boris Johnson readily admitted during Prime Ministers’ questions, “I cannot say that HS2 limited has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities. The cost forecasts have exploded.”
Further criticism has come from environmental groups which have voiced concern over the impact on local wildlife from their habitats being destroyed to make way for the new rail lines.
It’s not just animals who are at risk of being displaced, residents in areas where the lines will dissect are resigned to losing their homes. The village of Burton Green in Warwickshire, home to 640 people, is one such area.
Head of the village’s residents’ association Rona Taylor voiced her consternation with the government’s decision, “it’s a very frustrating day because we have opposed this for 10 years.”
For all the controversy Johnson is committed to HS2 which he asserts, “has fundamental value.” It seems ditching the project would prove politically toxic as the government has already spent around £7.5 billion on it.
Furthermore, after Johnson’s election promise to boost government investment into the North, ditching HS2 would undermine his bold promises.
Image source: Metro