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"No good engineering reason" for length of HS2 Northern construction timetable, says expert

Out-Law News | 29 Jan 2013 | 2:07 pm | 3 min. read

There is "no good engineering reason" why construction of the Northern stretch of a new national high speed rail network will not be completed until 2032, an expert has said.

Patrick Twist of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the Government's announcement of its preferred route for the line north of Birmingham still left the HS2 project "a long way from the first train running over the new tracks". However, he praised Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin for his "determination" to press ahead with the project "in the face of opposition".

"All the main political parties fully recognise that HS2 is a once in a century investment to improve England's infrastructure and boost economic growth," he said. "It may be proceeding at the pace of an elephant but it has the same unstoppable momentum."

"The question remains why it is taking so long. There is no good engineering reason why construction through to Leeds and Manchester should not follow on and be completed within 2-3 years of the London-Birmingham line, scheduled for 2026. Funding considerations have led the Government to wish to spread the capital expenditure over a lengthy period, but there are plenty of other obstacles which could result in late running or, at worst, derailment," he said.

He said that he regretted the delays to construction which he said inevitably flow from the Government’s earlier decision to postpone a second hybrid bill until after the next election.

"The complexity of the hybrid bill process provides plenty of scope for disrupting the project if all possible planning and development requirements are not fully identified and provided for," he said. "Meanwhile, the judicial reviews started by a number of local authorities and pressure groups are a wild card which have real potential to act as a brake on HS2. We will know the results of these challenges very shortly; however, it must be assumed that the objectors will continue to take all steps they can, whether by way of appeal or further challenges, to slow the project."

The Government set out its preferred route and locations of new stations in the West Midlands, North West, East Midlands and Yorkshire in a policy paper published yesterday. The 211-mile route, running from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, is due to open six years after trains begin running on the first stretch of line between London and Birmingham. Construction is due to begin on the southern phase of the route in 2016, with the route due to open to passengers in 2026.

The northern part of the route will include five new stations: Manchester, alongside the existing Piccadilly station; Manchester Airport; Toton, East Midlands; Sheffield, at Meadowhall shopping centre; and Leeds, which will be connected to the existing main station by a walkway. High speed trains will also stop at the existing station in Crewe. However, a decision on the proposed 'spur' which will connect the new line directly to Heathrow Airport has been delayed until the Davies Commission on international air capacity reports back in 2015.

As part of the announcement, the Transport Secretary said that the Government would begin its consultation on the northern 'y network' this year, rather than in 2014 as originally proposed. The Department for Transport (DfT) will also look into whether the project can be 'fast-tracked' so that this second phase can be completed before 2032, he said.

"This is an unparalleled opportunity to secure a step-change in Britain's competitiveness and this government will do everything possible to ensure that the towns and cities in the Midlands and the north get the connections they need and deserve to thrive," he said. "HS2 will be woven into the transport fabric of the nation, accessible to all, and I believe these proposed routes offer a great starting point for the process of engagement to follow."

The Government also published proposals for an 'exceptional hardship' scheme for property owners and businesses that may be affected by the proposed route, station and depot options. The scheme will provide compensation for those that can demonstrate that they have a need to sell their property within the lifetime of the scheme.

A verdict is due shortly on five legal challenges to the project, brought by protest groups HS2 Action Alliance, the '51M' group of local authorities affected by the scheme, Aylesbury Golf Club and Heathrow Hub. The groups are challenging the lawfulness of the project on various grounds including environmental concerns, lack of consultation and inadequate compensation arrangements. Some of the groups have an interest in alternative routes, including Heathrow Hub, a group which wants the line to be re-routed via the airport.

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