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HS2 Growth Taskforce shows Government committed to maximising wider economic benefits of HS2, says expert

Out-Law News | 24 Oct 2013 | 5:11 pm | 3 min. read

The Government is "determined" that the potential wider economic benefits of the proposed national high speed rail network should be "fully understood" and "captured as the project proceeds", an expert has said.

Patrick Twist of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, was commenting as the independent HS2 Growth Taskforce published an initial report, setting out how it will approach its remit of maximising the economic benefits of the new line. The group is chaired by Lord Deighton, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and head of the team behind the London Olympic Games, and is due to publish its interim findings later this year. A final report is to be submitted to the Government in early 2014, and will be used to inform the HS2 work programme.

"HS2 cannot be the catalyst for a step change in Britain's economic performance that Government and its supporters intend unless the project does more than simply connect the largest cities of England with a new rail line," said Twist. "The HS2 Growth Taskforce has been established under Lord Deighton to ensure the advantages of HS2 are captured as fully as possible for the benefit of the whole country."

"The very lengthy period over which HS2 will be built has given the opportunity to ensure that it is properly planned; that it is fully integrated into the existing rail and transport infrastructure; that essential improvements are made to that existing infrastructure; that regeneration benefits are fully exploited; and that UK industry is fully prepared to make the maximum contribution to the development and running of HS2," he said.

The report, titled 'The Challenge', sets out the three areas the taskforce will explore in forming its recommendations. It intends to consider connecting markets, businesses and people; unlocking regeneration and development; and using the UK's industries and workforce to deliver the £50 billion project.

The taskforce intends to meet with city leaders and businesses across the country as part of its work programme, and has already held "successful" meetings in Birmingham and Manchester. It has said that local areas and businesses, working with the Government, should "act now to become 'HS2-ready'" by planning and securing investment for local redevelopment works which will enable them to take full advantage of the new line.

"HS2 is set to be the biggest construction project in Europe and it's vital we harness the huge potential that it offers the UK," said Deighton. "It's not just a transport project and it's not just for one central Government department to deliver in isolation."

"In our report next year, the Taskforce will challenge Whitehall and local government leaders to step up and play their part in this transformative scheme. Growth and regeneration won't just be handed to us on a plate – we need to think big, we need to plan ahead and most importantly we need to work together if we are to really make the most of this once in a generation opportunity," he said.

Deighton's call for early regional preparatory work echoes the findings of the non-partisan Independent Transport Commission (ITC), which earlier this week called on the Government to "reframe its presentation" of the HS2 debate. The ITC said that UK cities should begin planning how to connect local and regional services to the line now, and recommended that the Government provide "seed funding" to help those "city-regions" take advantage of the "opportunities" that the new line would bring to regional areas.

Deighton said that similar projects had shown the benefits of major infrastructure investment. High speed rail stations in Japan had helped boost the country's employment rate by between 16 and 34%; while closer to home the redevelopment of London's King's Cross station had attracted £2.2bn of private sector investment from a public sector stake of £500 million. The surrounding area is likely to benefit from 22,000 new jobs by 2020 as a combined result of the redevelopment, HS1 and the new station at St Pancras International, he said.

"Following closely on the publication of the ITC's balanced and informed report on HS2, the HS2 Growth Taskforce's report on its work demonstrates clearly that the potential wider economic benefits of HS2 need to be fully understood and that, through the Taskforce, Government is determined that they should be captured as the project proceeds," projects expert Patrick Twist of Pinsent Masons said.

HS2 is due to be delivered in two phases, with the initial London to Birmingham phase of the line scheduled for completion in 2026. The line will cut journey times between the two cities to 45 minutes and support trains running at up to 250 miles per hour, according to the Department for Transport (DfT). A proposed second phase of the project envisages the construction of an onward 'y network' connecting the line to Manchester and Leeds, as well as to Heathrow Airport, by 2033.

The Government has also published its response to a short consultation on changes to the design of the scheme. In a statement to Parliament, new HS2 Minister Robert Goodwill confirmed that proposed surface lines at Northolt and Bromford in the West Midlands would be replaced with bored tunnels, and that 'safeguarding directions' would be issued for the two sites to prevent inconsistent development work. Decisions on another 12 refinements to the route would be published as soon as possible, he said.