Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan for a high-speed rail link connecting London to northern England won support from lawmakers after an inquiry into the 32 billion-pound ($51 billion) project.
The high-speed line, known as HS2, will bring economic benefits and should be planned as part of a broader economic and transport strategy, the House of Commons Transport Committee said in a report published in London today. There still needs to be greater clarity on the policy behind the project, the financial case and the justification for the proposed route before a final decision to go ahead is made, the report said.
“High-speed rail may be a catalyst for economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and bridge the north-south divide, but the government must do more to promote local and regional growth strategies to ensure we get maximum economic benefit,” the committee chairwoman, Louise Ellman, said in an e-mailed statement. “We are concerned that the government is developing separate strategies for rail and aviation, with HS2 separate from both. We call for the publication of a comprehensive transport strategy.”
The West Coast main line from London to northwest England and Scotland, already the busiest mixed-use rail route in Europe, will be operating at maximum capacity by 2024 if no action is taken, according to Network Rail, which runs Britain’s tracks. Ministers have threatened to quit over the high-speed plan and a poll of supporters of Cameron’s Conservative Party showed most oppose it.
North of Birmingham
Legislation for the first phase of the line, from London to the central city of Birmingham, should include guarantees that the next sections to Leeds and Manchester, in the north of England, will go ahead, the panel said.
The government should also look at whether it is necessary to have a line on which trains will run at speeds of 225 miles (360 kilometers) an hour and whether it could be built alongside existing transport corridors, such as the M40 or M1 highways, the committee said.
A Manchester poster campaign that said opponents of the project, which under current plans would pass through the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, only care about their own back yards with the slogan “their lawns or our jobs” was criticized by the committee.
“What should have been a serious and factually based debate about how best to address the transport, economic and environmental challenges of HS2 has too often been reduced to name-calling and caricature: Luddites, Nimbys and white elephants fought out a battle of ‘jobs versus lawns,’” the panel said. “We urge the government to desist from disparaging opponents of HS2 as Nimbys and for both sides in the debate to show respect for each other and to focus on the facts.”
Justine Greening, who was appointed as transport secretary last month, scheduled a meeting with lawmakers on Nov. 21 to hear their views on the project, she said in a statement today. Her department received 55,000 responses to a consultation on the plans that closed on July 29, and Greening said she wants to hear the views of all members of Parliament. She said she’ll be at the meeting to listen and won’t be able to respond to any substantive points lawmakers raise.