In January, the Secretary of State for Transport announced the project for the construction of HS2, a second high speed rail network. It is to be constructed in two phases forming a “Y” shape: the first phase between London and Birmingham and the second from Birmingham, to Manchester and to Leeds. Phase 1 will link to Europe via the high speed rail line in London, HS1 and the Channel Tunnel. At the time of the announcement any commitment to extending the line to northern England and Scotland was noticeably absent.
A consultation on HS2 last year resulted in almost 55,000 responses. The Government analysed these and considered the views of landowners, businesses and other interested parties. Amendments have been made to the proposed route and also to the structure of the line. Notwithstanding this, the announcement was met with a range of objections and the costs and benefits of the project have been put under the spotlight.
The economic case
The Department for Transport issued statements on transport user benefits and the wider economic benefits, as well as setting out its ‘value for money’ statement. The stated benefits include meeting any capacity shortfall in rail service and offering faster journey times. Wider economic benefits include the country having the ability to compete globally. Many of the objections focus on the fact that the project is at the lower end of the “medium value for money category”. The value for money increases with the completion of the full Y-network.
Following on from this, the financial benefit may be greater with HS2 extended to Scotland. In any case, changes to the pattern of travel demands in Scotland to London routes were included as part of the costs/benefits analysis of the project.
Without a start date in sight for phase 2 financial forecasting seems speculative. Some objectors go so far as to suggest that the disruption and likely increase in the real costs during phase 1 may stall or halt phase 2!
The Government is proposing a hybrid bill to secure enabling powers for the construction and the compulsory acquisition of the necessary land. The Government is to pay an independently assessed open market value plus a home loss payment (up to a stated maximum) to anyone whose land is acquired. It may be that further compensation is available by way of specialised bond-based schemes for hardship and compensation to assist those blighted by the rail lines. For business tenants, it appears that standard occupiers’ loss and disturbance costs will be paid and property owners should be entitled to loss of value compensation after one year of operation, but all these proposals are still subject to confirmation.
Britain is a small country. This raises the question in many minds as to whether or not the country actually needs the HS2. In addition, it is difficult to route the lines without deeply impacting our existing settlement structures. The Chiltern Hills and environs, for example, a protected area designated as “an area of outstanding natural beauty” is to be traversed. Alterations now include an increase in the amount of tunnelling through the hills and also the construction of “green tunnels” but it is not certain that such measures will be sufficient to counteract objections.
The end of the line
The Scottish Government supports HS2 and sees economic benefits in Scotland being a part of the project from the outset. Recent discussions between the transport minister for Scotland and the transport secretary in Westminster mean Scotland is indeed to be involved as regards phase 2. The transport minister will work with HS2 Limited looking at routes and finance proposals to bring high-speed rail to Scotland.