The new minister for HS2 rail has promised to oversee the controversial project with “forensic scrutiny”, saying that the rail link had to regain “the public’s trust”.
The project was given the go-ahead by Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month, despite estimations that the cost could run to more than £100bn by the time it is completed.
Andrew Stephenson, who was last week appointed specifically to look after HS2, today emphasised his commitment to the project in his first speech in post in Manchester.
Stephenson, the MP for Pendle in Lancashire, said that he believed the project “will redefine rail travel for northern passengers”:
“It is an unprecedented opportunity to reverse decades of underinvestment in our northern railways and to fire up the northern economy, just as the original railways did”.
He said that although he had been a long-time supporter of the project, he had watched “with deep concern” as costs had risen and deadlines been pushed back:
“Very simply, that can’t continue”, he said. “We need to have a much better, improved approach from HS2 Ltd this time. The company has a new budget for phase one, and now must deliver it”.
HS2 Ltd, the company charged with delivering the project, has come under heavy fire for its “poor management” of the project.
When giving the project approval, Johnson stressed that his decision had “not [been] made easier by HS2 Ltd”:
“I cannot say HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself among local communities,” he said. “Costs have exploded”.
Speaking to the New Statesman’s Northern Powerhouse conference in central Manchester, Stephenson said that the project would form just one part of an integrated rail plan for the North and Midlands.
He said that it would “examine how HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail can best work together, alongside wider investment in Transport for the North and the Midlands”.
Read more: Andrew Stephenson named minister for HS2
HS2 has now been carved up into three packages of work, with the first phase between Old Oak Common and Birmingham to be completed before the Euston regeneration and High Speed North phases.
Work on Phase 1 will start in April, while the government will revive the legislation to deliver Phase 2a, connecting Birmingham to Crewe, “as soon as possible”.