WORK on the budget-busting HS2 rail line has officially begun.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling branded the high speed service – which will eventually link London to Scotland – as the “greatest ever upgrade” to Britain’s railways. But why has HS2 been so controversial?
What is HS2?
The high speed rail line will increase capacity on Britain’s railways – slashing journey times and giving passengers a place to sit with thousands of extra seats every day.
The £56billion project has been branded a “game changer” by ministers because many services are currently “full to overflowing”.
Work on the first phase, from London to Birmingham, is due to begin after plans were passed in February 2017.
And a second route from Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds could treble the number of passengers per hour to 15,000 if given the green light.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “HS2 is an ambitious and exciting project and the Government is seizing the opportunity it offers to build a transport network fit for the 21st century, one that works for all and makes clear to the world that Britain remains open for business.
“The full HS2 route will be a game-changer for the country that will slash journey times and perhaps most importantly give rail passengers on the existing network thousands of extra seats every day. They represent the greatest upgrade to our railway in living memory.”
Where does Phase One of HS2 cover?
The first phase is due to open in December 2026 and will see trains travel at high speed between London and Birmingham – cutting through areas of Buckinghamshire and the Midlands.
The trains will then run from Birmingham on the existing West Coast Main Line.
What is Phase Two of HS2?
Phase 2 is Y-shaped and takes the high speed line to the north east and north west of England. The route to Leeds and York will run east of Sheffield. The western route will see trains pass from Crewe to Manchester.
Passengers travelling on the East Coast and West Coast main lines will benefit from more services and extra seats once the HS2 high-speed rail project is completed.
Ministers say the line will be finished by around 2032 and 2033.
Once complete, the number of passengers between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds per hour could treble to 15,000.
And there should be 48 commuter and intercity trains an hour between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – a 65 per cent rise from the current 29.
When did work on HS2 start and why is it so controversial?
HS2 cleared its final hurdle when it was given Royal Assent in February, paving the way for work on the first phase of the line to begin.
The Government has announced troubled construction giant Carillion is among the firms awarded contracts for the building of phase one of the HS2 rail line.
UK firms Costain and Balfour Beatty will also build tunnels, bridges and embankments.
The line has been branded a “white elephant” that will tear through the British countryside, with some homeowners facing their property being flattened to make way.
New housing estates face being torn down to make way for the high speed rail and an investigation by the Mail on Sunday claims £21million has been spent buying homes no longer affected due to changes to the HS2 route, leaving it with houses it doesn’t need.
In August, cops had to be called to a HS2 meeting in Doncaster after a brawl broke out when angry locals weren’t able to get in.
It has been confirmed that as a result of the eastern route, 16 homes on the Shimmer housing estate in Mexborough are expected to be demolished.
Those homeowners who lose their homes will be offered “comparable” properties, the Department for Transport has stated.
Campaign group Stop HS2 has worked tirelessly to oppose the rail line and say the government is ignoring its own advice on harming the environment.
A survey at the start of the month found only 15 per cent of the British public think HS2 is worth the £55 billion price tag.
Why are people angry about HS2?
Ministers have been dragging their feet over HS2 since the proposal was first announced in 2009.
Parliament and the public are still in the dark over crucial details – including how much it will cost and whether it will open on time.
A scathing report found there were serious doubts over how HS2 will plug a £7 billion blackhole in funding for the “volatile” second phase of the project.
And it warned there were still huge question marks over when the first phase will open – stating HS2 believes there is just a 60 per cent chance of the line from London opening as planned in 2026.
The government originally said HS2 would cost £32billion to build, which was increased to £55billion to allow for inflation.
But Stop HS2 said a FOI request they submitted showed that the project was running £7billion over budget – putting the official cost at £63billion.
In February 2019, it was revealed that one in five voters want the mutli-billion pound project to be built.
And just seven per cent think HS2 will benefit them.
Will HS2 get delayed again?
Phase 2 was dogged by delays and the new plan now doesn’t include the site of a new station in Sheffield after the Meadowhall proposal was scrapped.
HS2 put forward a city centre option, which meant cutting through the new housing estate in Mexborough, South Yorkshire.
Opting for a central site would cut costs by £1bn and be easier to construct, the company said.
A consultation is continuing and a final decision will not be made until later in 2017 – delaying the project even more.
The National Audit Office says HS2 has an “unrealistic timetable” and faces major cost pressures.
Could HS2 get cancelled?
A senior Cabinet source told Channel 4’s Dispatches programme in February 2019 that another option is currently under review to only build Phase One of the HS2 – which will run from London to Birmingham.
Ministers reportedly are considering axing the whole project amid concerns the spending will soar by 40 per cent over the next decade.
The Government’s former chief in-house rail advisor Professor Stephen Glaister told Dispatches that HS2 was not thought through.
He said: “There was no big picture analysis. We just don’t know whether there would have been a better way of spending the money.
“You might ask the question what else could you do? You could give larger sums of money to Manchester to Birmingham, to Newcastle and let them do as they saw best for their local communities.”
In public Theresa May remains committed to HS2 but the programme quoted a Cabinet minister saying she wanted to “scrap the whole thing” after entering No10 but “lacked the confidence” to follow through on it.
What extra funding was announced in the budget?
Chancellor Philip Hammond announced £1.7billion will go towards improving transport in English cities.
- An extra £337million will go towards a fleet of new trains on the Tyne & Wear Metro.
- An extra £6million will go towards the Midlands Connect motorway and rail projects.
- Transport links along the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor will be improved by completing the rail link between Oxford and Bedford, and Aylesbury and Milton Keynes and setting up a new East West Rail Company to speed up work on the rail link between Bedford and Cambridge
- £5million to help develop plans for Cambridge South Station building the Expressway road between Oxford and Cambridge
What has a report said?
A new report on the HS2 proposals has argued that every part of the country should have access to high speed rail.
A transport think-tank has proposed creating 1,000 miles of high-speed tracks by expanding existing lines and building new ones.
The plan would put “rocket fuel in Britain’s economy” by allowing commuters and tourists to speed around the UK at up to 250mph.
It would cut the journey time from London to Edinburgh down to three hours and 15 minutes, according to Greengauge 21.
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Greengauge 21 says the Government should start planning for many more high-speed services to be in place by 2050, and has proposed an upgrade to the country’s three main rail lines – the East Coast Main Line, West Coast Main Line and Great Western Main Line.
That would allow trains to run at speeds of 150mph without having to build new routes.
The report also says there should be high-speed trains running to Cambridge, Norwich, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Exeter and Swansea.
And it suggests plugging in major airports to the high-speed network – meaning it would take just 15 minutes to reach Stansted from Central London, while Heathrow would gain direct links to a number of major cities.