SPECULATION is growing that HS2 is set to be approved by the Government – possibly as soon as next week.
Chancellor Sajid Javid is meeting the Prime Minister today, and it is reported that the Treasury will support the project.
The scheme to build High Speed lines has been put under the microscope by a review team, with former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee in charge. Although publication of his conclusions has been delayed, a leaked version of his report has suggested that he is broadly in favour, although warning that the cost of all the phases, which would link London and Birmingham and later from Birmingham to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds, could be £106 billion, or almost double the 2015 estimate of £55.7 billion.
His review has caused fresh controversy, partly because his deputy Lord Tony Berkeley was stood down at short notice last October, and he has since produced his own dissenting version of the report.
Lord Berkeley published a supplementary paper setting out alternatives to HS2 two days ago, saying that the greatest potential for ‘quick wins’ was in the centres of Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Leeds, ‘given that they have the greatest proportion of overcrowded trains during rush hour outside London’. He continues: ‘These “quick wins” will only have a small disruptive effect on passengers, unlike the much greater, more widespread and longer lasting disruption to both rail passengers and motorists which HS2 could cause.’
The debate has been heated still further by a letter from Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines to transport secretary Grant Shapps, which was also leaked earlier this week. Mr Haines warned that alternative upgrades to existing main lines, which are virtually full already, could take almost 30 years, and that there would have to be regular and disruptive weekend possessions on the East Coast Main Line alone until the 2040s unless HS2 is built.
No 10 said a final decision about HS2 will not be made today, but the meeting is expected to help with reaching a conclusion soon.