Good news for infrastructure as UK government commits to full HS2 network, says expert

Out-Law News | 16 Nov 2016 | 11:44 am | 2 min. read

The UK government has set out its support for completing construction of HS2, the planned new national high speed railway line; publishing its preferred route for 'Phase 2' of the scheme between Crewe and Manchester, and between the West Midlands and Leeds.

It has now issued 'safeguarding' directions protecting the preferred route from conflicting development, and is consulting on property compensation and assistance schemes for those living along the route. It is also consulting on seven changes to the original plans for the route, which was published in 2013; most notably moving the station planned for the Sheffield area from the Meadowhall shopping centre to the city centre.

HS2 Ltd, which will deliver the planned project, has also awarded £900 million worth of works contracts for preparatory works along the HS2 'Phase 1' route, between the West Midlands and London. The contracts cover archaeological investigations, site clearance and setting up construction compounds; and will mean that Phase 1 construction can begin next year, as planned, for completion by the end of 2026.

Planning and infrastructure law expert Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, described the announcements as "welcome evidence" that Theresa May's government was "committed to the whole of HS2, not just Phase 1".

"The announcement also maintains the momentum for the preparation of the publication of the Hybrid Bill for construction of Phase 2, which we can expect in 2019," he said.

The High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Bill is currently before the UK parliament, and is expected to complete the parliamentary process in the next few months. The bill takes the form of a 'hybrid' bill, which has elements of both a public and a private bill, and will give the government powers to construct and operate HS2 Phase 1 between London and Birmingham.

HS2 was originally planned for delivery in two stages, with the second incorporating a 'y-shaped' network connecting Birmingham to both Leeds and Manchester. Last year, the government published its plans to speed up delivery of 'Phase 2a' of the line, between Birmingham and a new transport hub at Crewe, by 2027. The newly-published plans cover the remainder of the route, dubbed 'phase 2b', which is due for completion by 2033.

The government allocated a total of £55.7bn in public funding for the project as part of the 2015 Spending Review. This amount includes contingency funding and funding for rolling stock.

A command paper published by the government sets out its plans for the route in more detail. The western leg of HS2 will continue north from Crewe to Manchester Airport and then continue on to Manchester city centre, where a new HS2 station will be built next to Manchester Piccadilly station. There will also be connections to Liverpool and to the existing West Coast main line, allowing the new HS2 trains to continue north and serve stations to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

On the eastern leg, the line will continue from the West Midlands to a new station at Toton in the East Midlands; which will serve connections to Nottingham, Derby and the wider region. It will then continue north from Toton to Sheffield, Leeds and connections with the East Coast Main Line to York and Newcastle. A new HS2 station will be built in Leeds city centre, adjacent to the exiting station, while a further station will be built to serve Sheffield depending on the outcome to the government's consultation.

By 2033, once HS2 is fully operational, the total number of main line commuter and intercity trains per hour each way into and out of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds will almost double to 48, while the total number of seats available will treble to almost 15,000 per hour, according to the government. The scheme is expected to create around 25,000 jobs during construction, as well as 2,000 apprenticeships.