Boris Johnson approves Britain's new high-speed railway HS2

Reactions to Boris Johnson giving green light to HS2

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed the huge high speed rail infrastructure project connecting London to the Midlands and the North, named HS2, will go ahead.

HS2 would be UK's second high-speed rail project after HS1, or the line linking London with the Channel Tunnel that goes on to connect the country with France.

After years of back and forth over the project, the Prime Minister said his Government supports the building of the 250mph railway line designed to connect London to the Midlands and the North.

He said that he would be appointing a special HS2 minister to oversee the project and he planned to combine HS2 north of Birmingham together with Northern Powerhouse rail - linking Leeds to Manchester.

Approving the controversial rail line is a landmark decision for the Prime Minister, who said his government "had the guts to take the decision" to build the rail line.

The project has dogged successive governments for the past 10 years and costs have spiralled to almost double the original amount - despite the fact that no rail line has actually been laid yet. The previous government last year noted that HS2 costs had soared owing to the complexity of building in densely populated cities and challenging ground conditions.

Then, it was revealed that rather than opening in 2026, the first phase of HS2 would not operate until between 2028 and 2031. Preparatory costs are said to have already hit £8.0 billion.
A quick history of HS2

The first high speed rail in the UK was opened in 2003 in the form of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link between London and the Channel - also known as "High Speed 1".

In 2009 there was an assessment for a second high speed line, High Speed Two (HS2), which was proposed by the Labour Government at the time.

The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government reviewed these plans and adopted an additional policy to connect London, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham with Heathrow Airport.

But there was opposition to the latter part of the rail, connecting it with Heathrow, with some arguing this stage should not be added until the rail had reached the north of England.

The Conservative Government, under David Cameron, then opened the plan to the public in the form of a consultation in February 2011.

This consultation was based on the route from London to Birmingham, with additional branches to Leeds and Manchester, as originally put forward by the Labour government - with some alterations designed to reduce disruption.

At the start of 2012 the government confirmed HS2 would go ahead in two phases and it began the legislative process to put the planning into law - this also allowed for any amendments or objections as per the Parliamentary system.

Then came the legal challenges. The plan was strongly opposed by the likes of residents, environmental groups, community groups, and organisations.

The Government was accused of failing to carry out a proper strategic environmental assessment for the plan, not giving enough information to the public during the consultation, failing to consult on the route and consider the impact of the project.

All the claims were ultimately unsuccessful.

On 23 March 2016, the House of Commons passed the HS2 hybrid bill at its third reading. It received Royal Assent on 23 February 2017.

Continued opposition

Despite being formally approved, the project continued to be a controversial issue under Theresa May and the Tories have been torn over whether to continue with it or not.

Several of the party's MPs, with seats in constituencies along the route between London and Birmingham, are against the project on the grounds that it will cause a huge amount of disruption to their constituents.

They have repeatedly hit out at the financial cost which, according to a leaked Government-commissioned review, could cost upwards of a staggering £100bn.

A recent review led by former HS2 chairman Doug Oakervee found there was “considerable risk” the cost could rise by up to 20 per cent beyond the current budget of between £81bn and £88bn. This would bring it to almost double the £56bn originally allocated for the rail link in 2015.

Despite the concerns over spiralling costs, the inquiry did, however, conclude "on balance" that the Government should continue with the project.

But it recommended that work on phase 2b of HS2, which would see a new line installed between Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, should be paused for six months to consider whether it could be made up of a combination of conventional and high speed lines instead.

As well as the financial cost, there is opposition to the environmental cost of the project which will cut through precious ancient woodland, destroying vital habitats.

And MPs have complained that the entire project needs to be reviewed to consider whether it will be as seamless as first intended.

They have pointed the lack of connections with the Eurostar will mean that would not be able to be the alternative to flying once proposed. Platform restrictions will also make extending the line challenging.

Some would prefer local and regional transport schemes to be prioritised over HS2, with many pointing out that the fast rail link will most likely be unhelpful or affordable to the average commuter in northern cities.

So... why is it going ahead?

Mr Johnson promised during the election campaign that he wanted to "level up" parts of the country in the Midlands and North that previously felt they had been ignored by Westminster.

And he knows he must be seen to be committing to investment in schemes to boost the economy outside London and the South East - and HS2 is the perfect example of this.

If he scraps it outright he could risk looking like he was immediately forgetting about all those voters who "loaned" him their support in the election.

Mr Johnson's also has a well-known fondness for ambitious infrastructure projects - for example the London garden bridge project (which was never completed) and the installment of "bendy-buses" around the capital - which have since been taken out of service.

Instead he appears to have gone for a compromise position by committing to the first phase of the project while also announcing a £5bn cash injection to overhaul bus and cycle links in regions outside London.

As well improving bus services, Mr Johnson will promise 250 miles of new cycle routes across England, with dozens of "mini-Holland" schemes to make town centres safer for cyclists.

Reactions to Boris Johnson giving green light to HS2

Commenting , Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “Industry will applaud this bold, sensible and pragmatic decision which will help change the country for the better.

For too long poor regional connectivity and, the UK’s creaking infrastructure, have been major contributors to the regional imbalance between the North and South, as well as the continuing poor productivity performance which urgently needs lifting.

“However, this was never an ‘either or’ decision favouring one project at the expense of other infrastructure investments including better East West links, especially across the Pennines. Government now has a once in a generation opportunity to develop a fully integrated transport plan for the whole country which it should grab with both hands.”

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, added: “The Prime Minister’s decision to back HS2 is exactly the sort of bold, decisive action required to inject confidence in the economy. It sends the right signal around the world that the U.K. is open for business.

“HS2 shows the government’s commitment to levelling up the nations and regions of the UK. The project will bring jobs, new homes, skills and investment to the areas of the country that need them most.

“Once built, HS2 will bring much needed capacity to our railways and help to realise the government’s promise of an ‘infrastructure revolution’ for the North, Midlands and beyond.

“The time for debate over HS2 is over and the time for delivery is now.”

HS2 timeline

January 2009: Labour establishes HS2 Ltd to examine the case for a new high-speed rail line.

December 2010: A consultation on a route for HS2 from London to Birmingham, with a Y-shaped section to Manchester and Leeds, is published by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

January 2012: The Transport Secretary Justine Greening announces the Government has decided to go ahead with the £32bn project, despite concerns over its cost and the environmental impact of construction. It will open to Birmingham in 2026 and Manchester and Leeds in 2032.

November 2013: The High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill setting out the powers needed to build Phase 1 of HS2 between London and Birmingham is introduced to Parliament.

January 2014: The Supreme Court rejects outstanding appeals by opponents of the rail scheme.

November 2015: The official price tag for HS2 comes in at just under £56bn in the autumn statement.

June 2016: The National Audit Office warns HS2 is under financial strain and could be delayed by a year.

July 2016: The route to Leeds is changed after Sheffield Council campaigns against the original plans for a new station at Meadowhall. The new route east towards the M18 puts HS2 in the path of the Shimmer housing estate.

September 2016: Simon Kirby resigns as HS2 Ltd chief executive.

February 2017: The High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill achieves Royal Assent, enabling preparation work to begin.

July 2017: HS2 Ltd accepts it was a "serious error" to make £1.7m ofunauthorised redundancy payments to staff.

December 2018: Sir Terry Morgan resigns as chairman of HS2 Ltd amid criticism over his role as chairman of Crossrail, which is delayed and over budget.

August 2019: The Conservatives commission a review into whether and how HS2 should continue. It will be led by former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee, with long-term critic of the project Lord Berkeley acting as his deputy.

September 2019: A report by HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook says the railway may not be completed until 2040, and the scheme could cost £88bn.

January 2020: The Oakervee Review is widely leaked. It finds that HS2 could cost up to £106bn, but concludes "on balance" that the project should continue.

February 2020: Boris Johnson outlines his plans for the future of HS2.

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