The new transport secretary, Chris Grayling, says he does not intend to scrap the high-speed HS2 rail project.
The Stop HS2 campaign group had called on Mr Grayling to urgently review the project on cost grounds, and the effect on towns and cities near the route. The initial plan is for a new line from London to Birmingham, with later extensions to Manchester and Leeds.
Yet in a radio interview this weekend, Mr Grayling said that he had “no plans to back away from the HS2 project”, and that he wanted to reach a quick decision on where a new runway should be built for air travel to and from London.
The Transport Secretary said “The thing that’s important for people to understand is that HS2 is not simply a speed project, it’s a capacity project. We have lines at the moment which have seen huge increases in the number of passengers, the amount of freight in recent years”. Mr Grayling added: “Of course it makes sense if we’re going to build a new railway line for it to be a fast railway line, to increase travel times or reduce travel times from north to south – that’s logical. But actually we need a better transport system for the 21st century and HS2 is part of increasing the capacity of our transport system”.
The Stop HS2 campaign responded to the comment, but acknowledged that is was “hardly a ringing endorsement” either. The campaign had hoped that a new government under Prime Minister Theresa May would re-review the proposals for the project.
MPs will vote on the first phase of HS2 later this year, and approval will allow construction to begin. The company building the ine, HS2 Ltd, will hand out up to £11bn worth of contracts in the next few months.
Mr Rukin, the pressure group’s campaign manager, said the project had failed a recent Department for Transport review, on the issues of both costs and the scheduling of work. That was one reason why HS2 should not be allowed to commence with its tendering processes, he argued.
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Author Lex Barber