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Link between HS2 and Channel Tunnel train line to be dropped, UK Transport Secretary confirms

The UK government is to scrap the planned link between the new national High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line and the HS1 line to the Channel Tunnel, the Transport Secretary has confirmed.

In a statement to parliament, Patrick McLoughlin backed many of the recommendations made by Sir David Higgins, chair of HS2 Ltd, in a report last week. Higgins recommended that £700 million be cut from the cost of the project by dropping the link, while parts of the construction should be speeded up. McLoughlin also welcomed the publication of a report on the economic benefits of the project from the government-commissioned HS2 Growth Task Force.

"In welcoming the reports of Sir David Higgins and the HS2 Growth Task Force, the Transport Secretary confirmed that he accepts Higgins' suggestion that the HS2/HS1 link should be dropped and said that it would be removed from the Hybrid Bill," said transport infrastructure expert Patrick Twist of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "He approved the recommendation that the line should be extended to Crewe at an early stage and is commissioning HS2 Ltd to investigate, but he made clear that this was an acceleration of part of Phase 2 not an alternative to it."

"To nobody's surprise he announced that he was instructing HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to produce proposals for a comprehensive redevelopment of Euston Station, but said that a larger redevelopment should not mean greater costs and that substantial private sector involvement would be sought. At the same time, following on the success of the King's Cross/St Pancras improvements, HS2 Ltd and London and Continental Railways would be asked to establish a regeneration company to maximise the regeneration opportunities presented by the new line," he said.

Under current plans, HS2 is to be built in two stages. An initial London to Birmingham section of the line is due for completion in 2026 while a proposed second phase connecting the line to Manchester, Leeds and Heathrow Airport would follow by 2033. The project is currently estimated to cost £42.6 billion, of which £14.56bn is contingency, with an additional £7.5bn for rolling stock.

In his report, Higgins recommended extending the line 43 miles further north than planned in Phase 1 to a new transport hub at Crewe, which could be completed by 2027. Doing so would allow the second phase of the route to be completed by 2030 instead of 2033, he has said. His report also recommended scrapping a planned link between HS2 and the existing HS1 line between London and the Channel Tunnel, as well as a "more ambitious" redevelopment of Euston Station, the proposed London terminus for the line.

"The proposals are welcome, because HS2 is a vital project," said McLoughlin in his statement to parliament. "It can do for future generations what the Victorian railways did for previous generations and what the motorways did for ours. That is why it has the strong support of the government and why cities in the midlands and the north are calling for its benefits to be spread as widely as possible. We must heed that call, but if that is to happen, we must also get the basics right, stick to the cost, plan well, listen, respect the environment, build what really works and what we need for the future, and ensure that people get the benefits as quickly as possible."

"Our priority must be to get the benefits to the midlands and the north as soon as possible. In short, we must put the money and time where they can do the most good. Sir David is clear that he does not think that the existing proposals for a HS1-HS2 link meet the test. The HS1-HS2 link proposed in the hybrid Bill ... requires too many compromises in terms of its impact on freight, passengers and the community in Camden. I therefore intend to remove the link from the hybrid Bill and withdraw safeguarding as soon as possible," he said.

During the debate, Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh committed to support for the hybrid Bill at its second reading, which is due to take place in the House of Lords shortly, from the Labour Party. However, she also made it clear that the opposition would be looking closely at how the project is planned and managed to ensure that concerns over cost are met.

"Transforming rail capacity south of Birmingham and improving connectivity north of Birmingham are vital and will transform our great cities," she said. "We support HS2 because of the capacity constraints that too many commuters on our railways face. We will continue to hold the government to account for keeping costs down on the project."

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