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HS2 benefits won't be derived by mere construction of railway, says expert

A new report from a government-commissioned taskforce has highlighted that it will take more than the mere construction of the new High Speed 2 (HS2) railway line for the potential benefits associated with the faster network to be realised, an infrastructure expert has said.

Patrick Twist of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that UK cities north of London would welcome the HS2 Growth Taskforce's report (48-page / 7.85MB PDF) on preparing for and maximising the growth and regeneration benefits of the new high speed rail link. There is potential for the cities and regions to claim "social and economic ownership of the project", he said. The taskforce, chaired by Lord Paul Deighton, was set up last summer with the aim of maximising the job creation potential and other economic benefits of HS2.

"The message which comes through loud and clear from the report is that HS2 can be transformative in the social and economic benefits it can bring to the Midlands and the North, jump-starting growth and regeneration," Twist said. "It won’t happen just by building the railway. What is needed is for all those involved to be ambitious and seize that opportunity; plan first and deliver through concerted action. We did it with Olympics and can do it with HS2."

In its report the taskforce called for individual "growth strategies" to be developed by local authorities across the country where the HS2 link is being constructed before the end of the year. The strategies would allow development to be brought forward earlier and would "establish dedicated delivery bodies to coordinate investment around HS2 stations".

It said a "central delivery body" should help ensure the individual strategies are coordinated and that the government should appoint a dedicated minister "with responsibility for overseeing this support and delivery of the strategies".

"The whole country, and particularly the city regions north of Birmingham, must benefit from a reliable, high capacity and well-connected transport network with HS2 at its heart," the taskforce's report said. "Our recommendations call on city regions both on and off the HS2 route to make detailed, long-term, local and regional transport plans that fully consider HS2 opportunities."

"Local authorities, LEPs, local partners and central government must collaborate to make the right investments happen, and the Government must clearly communicate its plans and ambitions for the rest of our railways post-HS2. Future decisions on investment need to be informed by thorough examinations of economic growth potential in each possible location," it said.

Twist said that a Masterplan for the anticipated Birmingham Curzon HS2 station has already been published and that the city council had also held discussions with HS2 Ltd, the company set up to deliver the new high speed train link, "about establishing a regeneration company to promote and coordinate redevelopment".

The taskforce's report also called on the government to prioritise the training of people in "railway engineering and advanced construction skills". It said there is already a shortage of rail engineers in the UK and that additional skilled workers were required to both service the current railway network and "build, maintain and operate" HS2.

"We require a long-term pipeline of skilled people and the younger generation will need both good information and the right educational routes if they are to take advantage of the potential opportunities," it said.

Twist said that HS2 was just one of several major infrastructure projects on the agenda that would stretch the capacity of available skills.

"New nuclear power stations, the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a potential Crossrail 2, along with HS2, will challenge the capacity of the civil engineering sector and especially the rail industry," Twist said. "The report tells Government that it must make growing railway engineering and advanced construction skills a priority and that it must clearly define how the proposed HS2 Skills College will contribute to this."

The report also called for HS2 Ltd to ensure that the procurement process it follows for tendering for and awarding contracts to help with the design and construction of the rail link does not "create barriers for smaller businesses".

"HS2 Ltd should set new standards for industry engagement and open procurement. Its procurement strategy should require main contractors to use open procurement tools to advertise HS2 opportunities and the process should be streamlined where possible to ensure there are no barriers for small businesses," it said.

Twist said that the main theme stemming from the report was the need for action now but for HS2 planning to take account of the long-term and not just the immediate future.

"Network Rail is recommended to produce this year its plan for how the increased capacity provided by HS2 will affect other routes and the capacity for rail freight," he said. "Sir David Higgins, the former CEO of Network Rail and now chairman of HS2 Ltd, is known to favour the hub structure for rail services which is common in other countries. Lord Deighton is inviting Network Rail to fundamentally review how its services will interact with HS2."

In a separate development, the government welcomed news that Japanese company Hitachi had, with its appointment of Alistair Dormer as chief executive of its rail systems business, moved decision-making powers for the company to London.

"The focus of the international leadership team based in London is to grow Hitachi’s Global Rail business in international markets," Hitachi Rail Europe said in a statement.

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