Posted by

Tom Nolan, Policy Adviser

01 Nov 2013

Major transport projects tend to generate a lot of coverage (and at times controversy) before they are built. But it is unlikely many have gained as a high a profile as the current plans to build a new high speed rail line north of London. HS2 is rarely out of the news these days, but even by its normal standards the last week has been particularly busy. Early in the week a two-part report was released that goes some to strengthening the argument for the scheme. And then later in the week MPs were given the chance to express their views when legislation required to build it went before Parliament.

A study was conducted by Network Rail and the management consultancy Atkins for the government, and it found that that without HS2 there would have to be 2,770 weekend closures on the East Coast, West Coast and Midland main lines for the same intended capacity of HS2. This could lead to travel times between London and Leeds doubling.

Most people accept that something has to be done to address capacity on the network. Those opposed to a new line have long argued that viable alternatives are available. But the Network Rail study shows that the alternatives would cost billions, cause untold disruption to commerce, and deliver far less capacity.

This week also saw the publication of the revised business case. It showed that the expected benefit-cost ratio (BRC) has fallen from £2.50 to £2.30 in benefits for every pound spent. Predictably, many used the fall to say it undermined the need for HS2. But most experts believe the latest BRC is a very credible figure and still represents good value for the taxpayer. It is also worth remembering that it is higher than many other key transport projects, such as the Jubilee Line extension and Thameslink.

The BCC have been consistent supporters and you can read our reaction to the report here. HS2 also has the backing of most Chambers of Commerce across the UK and this week many of the Northern Chambers sent a letter to the Prime Minister explaining why the project is so vital to businesses in the area. That letter can be found here.

We were pleased to see parliament decisively back the project when it was voted on, as there had been speculation that a number of MPs would vote against. But the Bill only applies to funds to pay for surveys, buy property and compensate evicted residents. The main HS2 Bill is not due until the end of the year, and the project still has many obstacles to overcome before we see diggers on the ground.