The obvious questions HS2 planners still have to answer

 
Marion Dakers

Business groups have been broadly supportive of the changes to High Speed 2, set out this morning by new chairman Sir David Higgins, though concerns remain about the benefits of the project.

Following Sir David’s review, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has this morning confirmed that the £700m link between HS1 (The Channel Tunnel) and HS2 is to be scrapped, cancelling disruptive construction work through Camden.

However, McLoughlin also told parliament that he agrees that “more can be made of Euston station”, paving the way for a major redevelopment at the north London site as well as the return of the Euston Arch, which was knocked down in the 1960s rebuild.

The British Chambers of Commerce said that while businesses will welcome quicker construction of the full route, the axing of the Channel link will worry firms hoping for a direct link from the North and the Midlands to Europe.

“Business people will be concerned that this part of the development has been put on hold, as it is important that passengers can board a train in Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds and travel straight to the Continent,” said director general John Longworth.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology fears that towns near the HS2 route will still miss out on the potential benefits of high speed rail, even with plans for a new hub at Crewe.

“We need an urgent dialogue between HS2, Network Rail, the Train Operating Companies and local authorities to fully understand the challenges that the arrival of high speed trains will bring to the classic railway network,” said the IET’s Jeremy Acklam.

The HS2 Action Alliance, which took the government through judicial review over consultations made on the railway, said big questions remain about spare passenger capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line, where a typical train at peak times is just 52 per cent full.

Richard Wellings of the Institute of Economics Affairs, meanwhile, has pointed to holes in Sir David’s sums, which assume that the first leg of HS2 up to Birmingham will be comfortably within the £21.4bn budget.

Lord Deighton’s HS2 Growth Task Force is due to report later this week and the transport select committee has invited both Deighton and Sir David to give evidence on the scheme on 25 March.