Labour threatens to redesign HS2 link

LABOUR would delay construction of the London leg of the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway in order to redesign the route through the capital, shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle has told City A.M.

Eagle said the government’s current proposal to link HS2 to the High Speed 1 (HS1) line using existing tracks through north London is “completely inadequate” and will cause years of chaos for Camden residents.

She said a Labour government would instead immediately commission a review of the HS1-HS2 link on taking office – “even if it were to delay the start of phase one” of HS2’s route from London to Birmingham.

HS1 – previously known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link – connects St Pancras to the continent, carrying the Eurostar and Javelin commuter services to Kent.

Eagle also insisted the coalition government will miss its target of passing the legislation required for HS2 before the 2015 general election.

“Crossrail took over three years [of parliamentary time],” she said. “The idea you can get HS2 through in a year just isn’t going to happen. It’s much more costly and controversial.”

Her intervention comes amid mounting criticism of the railway, with the Institute of Directors (IoD) today calling on the government to abandon what it terms “a grand folly”.

A poll of 1,300 IoD members found half the respondents believe the scheme represents poor value for money, with most businesspeople instead wanting investment to be directed towards existing intercity railway lines and roadbuilding efforts.

“The IoD cannot support the government’s current economic case for HS2 when so many of our members are doubtful of the benefits,” said the organisation’s director general Simon Walker. “It is time for the government to look at a thousand smaller projects instead of falling for one grand folly.”

Alison Munro, chief executive of HS2 Ltd, said the line would transform regional economies and insisted the IoD’s proposals would not solve the looming capacity crunch on the British rail network: “Smaller schemes only make small improvements to capacity and often just move the bottleneck elsewhere on the network.”

Labour, who first proposed the new railway in 2009, this weekend pledged to withdraw support for HS2 if costs exceed £50bn. The official budget for the line currently stands at £42.6bn, although Treasury officials are briefing that the price could hit £73bn.

Maria Eagle said her party remains completely committed to the construction of a new line for capacity reasons. But she says not enough thought has been given to its link with HS1, which would boost the economic case.

“We need to get this connection right from beginning rather than compromise. Why should people from the south east have to come into London and switch trains to reach the Midlands? I don’t see this as some sort of optional extra.”

The existing plan for a HS1-HS2 link will see Victorian railway bridges throughout Camden rebuilt to carry the high speed line next to existing London Overground services.

The local council wants the plans scrapped and Camden Market traders believe the disruption will damage their businesses.

Eagle said ministers had already placated locals in Conservative-voting rural constituencies: “Londoners and Camden residents have every reason to feel they’re getting a second-order solution compared to the redesigns in the Chilterns.”