Sir David Higgins has said that a large cost reduction is unlikely but warned that the HS2 project is essential to the UK’s economy and to encourage businesses to invest outside the south-east.
In an interview with the Financial Times, the new head of the High Speed 2 rail project said that it is important that the cost does not rise, but at the same time, a realistic and achievable budget is needed.
Higgins was asked by David Cameron to find ways to keep HS2 costs down. He said that the public should not expect a large reduction. He also said that some MPs’ opposition to the project might alter plans.
Higgins will publish a report in March, outlining possibilities to contain costs and launch the project sooner than expected. He believes that HS2, often criticised for its cost and possible environmental impact, is much more than just a railway and would encourage growth and investment outside of the wealthy south-east.
“People are thinking about what HS2 is as a railway, but we need to think about what it can do rather than what it is. It’s much more than just two tracks of metal. I think it’s essential, if you look at the challenge that the country has, we have a very unbalanced economy”, he said.
Pressure on resources and properties would also be reshaped by greater connection between the north and south of England, in a move that Higgins said could “rebalance both the economy in general and our national skills base”.
Meanwhile, the government has unveiled plans for a new college, set to open in 2017, to train future HS2 engineers.
Secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin said, “Creating jobs by delivering better infrastructure is a key part of the Government’s long term economic plan. HS2 will not only help businesses expand, creating employment.
“It will also give young people opportunities to get new skills, get a job and a career, become more secure and get on in life. When open, it is predicted that HS2 will underpin the delivery of 400,000 jobs.”