Sir David Higgins, the head of HS2, has said that abandoning the controversial high speed rail project would lead to the economy underperforming in the north of England. He has also said that political consensus on the project is vital.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Higgins said, “If we miss this gateway then we are basically sentencing the north to underperforming economically for a long, long time.”
This is one of the reasons Higgins is likely to recommend parliament gives a mandate for the whole project at once and suggest that it starts in the north first rather than in London. He argues that the whole development should be viewed as one project and added, “The north is terrified this will be a bypass to Birmingham and then the project will lose momentum. That would be disastrous.”
The planned HS2 line will connect London to Birmingham, which will then connect to both Manchester and Leeds. The project has in principle received backing from all three of the main political parties.
Higgins will publish a report looking at the scope of the project in March, which will also address the cost of delays. Politicians failing to make decisions were highlighted as one of the potential areas where cost increases could occur.
Higgins explained, “The longer you take in committee stage, you take the risk of adding cost. And if it takes three years instead of one, it adds two years of inflation to the project. The meter is always ticking.”
He has previously commented on the project’s budget, saying a realistic and achievable budget was needed and that a large cost reduction was unlikely.
As the project will take 20 years to complete, and as a result span several governments, political consensus was “absolutely fundamental”, Higgins said. He admitted that Labour’s questions around the management of the project were “legitimate” and would need to be addressed.
The project has received some criticism, with the Woodland Trust saying it showed a “shocking disregard” for nature. A legal bid to put the plan under further scrutiny in government was rejected by the Supreme Court last month.