HS2: rail route detailed in biggest ever government bill
New bill, effectively a giant planning application, details scheme 'almost down to last blade of grass'
THE development of Britain's high speed rail network enters a key phase today as the HS2 hybrid bill goes before Parliament.
The 'High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill' is effectively a giant planning application for the scheme. If passed, the new legislation would give government the powers to construct and operate phase one of HS2 – the 140-mile line running between London's Euston station and Birmingham.
It is the biggest bill the country has ever seen, stretching to tens of thousands of pages, says Richard Westcott, the BBC's transport correspondent, and "details, almost down to the last blade of grass, exactly what ministers would like to build".
Those affected by the bill are able to petition Parliament, both for and against the proposals, and have their case heard by a committee of MPs. It includes:
Powers to build HS2: The bill will secure planning permission to build and maintain the first phase of HS2.
Rights to forcibly buy land: Government wants the right to buy up houses and land regardless of whether the owner wants to sell. It also wants the power to carry out work on listed buildings, demolish buildings in conservation areas and change rights of way, such as diverting highways and waterways, to enable HS2 to be built.
Details of route: Individuals can see exactly how they will be affected with details of how and where the line will be built.
Environmental impact: The government is also publishing the likely environmental effects of the scheme. For example, ministers will pledge to plant at least 2 million trees to screen the railway and to use Japanese technology to reduce the noise made by wheels on the rails.
HS2 opponents will be protesting outside the Houses of Parliament today, while Labour and the Trades Union Congress have voiced support for the scheme.
HS2 Q&A: the pros and cons of high-speed rail
FEW infrastructure projects have created as much anger and argument as High-Speed 2 (HS2). To its supporters, the £50bn rail line from London to Birmingham and then on to Manchester and Leeds is both essential and long overdue. They say it will slash journey times, relieve congestion on other parts of the network and drive growth in regions north of the capital. HS2's opponents say its benefits have been heavily overstated and the money could be better spent elsewhere. In addition, they believe the line will disfigure large tracts of countryside. Here are some of the pros and cons of the project:
Why is it called HS2?
High Speed 1 (HS1) is the 67-mile stretch of line running from London's St Pancras station to the entrance of the Channel Tunnel in Kent. High Speed 2 (HS2), is divided into two phases. The first - a 140-mile line running north from London's Euston station to Birmingham - was announced in March, 2010. The second, announced in January, 2013, adds a V-shaped line taking services from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds. The exact route of HS2 is not yet "set in stone", says the BBC. A final plan is expected by the end of 2014.
What kind of trains will be used?
There will be two types of train operating on the HS2 network. The first is a dedicated high-speed train travelling at speeds of up to 225mph. The second is a ‘classic compatible train' that can operate on both the high-speed track and the existing rail network. Trains would run about 14 times a day in each direction when phase one is operational, a frequency increasing to about 18 times a day when phase two opens.
What's the price tag?
The single most contentious aspect of HS2 is its enormous cost. The estimated bill has risen steadily since the project was announced, jumping from £34.5bn in January to almost £43bn in June due to the cost of extra tunnelling work. Once the £7.5bn cost of the new locomotives and rolling stock is added in, the total bill sits at about £50bn. HS2 Ltd points out that that figure includes £14.4bn of contingency, so the network may be built for considerably less. Labour, which has has threatened to withdraw its support if costs rise above £50bn, hopes they're right. But the Sunday Times says "Treasury insiders" are already using a figure of about £73bn to discuss the ultimate cost of the project.
When will it open?
Don't try to buy an HS2 ticket just yet. Work isn't due to start on the first phase of the network until 2017 with a completion date sometime in 2025. The first passenger service from London to Manchester has been pencilled in for 17 June 2033.
What are the benefits for travellers?
Two words: shorter journeys. The Department for Transport says HS2 will cut the trip from Birmingham to London from 1hour 24min to 49 minutes. Passengers using the second phase of HS2 would see the journey from Manchester to London cut in half from 2 hours 8 minutes to 1 hour 8min and the Birmingham to Leeds route will be slashed from 2 hours to 57 minutes. The introduction of HS2 would shave an hour off the 4 hour 30 minute rail trip from London to Edinburgh.
Any other benefits?
Plenty, if you believe HS2's boosters. The government says it will free up capacity on over-crowded commuter routes. It will also reduce the number of air trips taken each year by 4.5 million and cut the number of car and lorry journeys by nine million.
What about stimulating the economy?
Politicians who support HS2 are bullish about its ability to drive growth and "heal the north-south divide", as Nick Clegg put it. Chancellor George Osborne predicts the line will be "the engine for growth in the north and the Midlands". The exact amount of growth is hard to predict. The government has said the first phase of HS2 alone will generate 40,000 jobs. Meanwhile, a report commissioned by HS2 Ltd claims that the economies around Birmingham, Derby and Nottingham could be boosted by up to 4 per cent by 2037. The effect around Leeds and Greater Manchester would be smaller, as the improvement to transport links is less marked, with a maximum benefit to the economy of 1.7 per cent.
What are the arguments against HS2?
The simplest argument against the project is that there are better ways to spend £50bn. Commentators such as The Times' Matt Ridley have lined up to advise the government on where the cash could be spent to deliver better cost benefits than those promised by HS2. Ridley's plan includes a third runway at Heathrow (£17bn) and a national network of cycle lanes (£2bn).
MPs and academics have voiced concerns about the claimed economic benefits of HS2. The BBC says academics disagree over whether high-speed rail "helps or hinders" deprived regions. Professor John Tomaney at University College London's Bartlett School of Planning says the experience of France, Spain and South Korea is that high-speed rail "sucks more wealth to the centre". He believes that the main effect of HS2 is that Birmingham will become part of the South East labour market.
MPs have also got the jitters. On 7 October the Treasury Select Committee said there were "serious shortcomings" in the economic case for the project. Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chairman of the cross-party committee, said more proof was needed that HS2 would be value for money and said the project should be abandoned until there was a formal reappraisal of the plan.
What about the environmental impact?
Some of the most vociferous opponents of HS2 are those living in rural areas through which the new line will pass. The Daily Telegraph insists the network will "tear up rural England". Hundreds of acres of green-belt land will be lost, the paper says, and "more than 1,000 buildings are to be demolished". ·