Monday 3 September 2018 7:15 am

Taxpayers’ Alliance launches competition to find HS2 replacement

Follow Joe Curtis

Armchair transport ministers have been given their chance to shine by a new competition to devise an alternative to HS2, the planned high-speed railway.

Pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which advocates cutting public spending, has put out a call for ideas on how to spend the £50bn-plus designated for the planned route linking London, Birmingham, the east Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.

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The competition, which runs until late October, will be judged by an expert panel, and winning entries will be professionally costed and presented to ministers.

Harry Fone of the TPA said the competition is “a fantastic opportunity for people and organisations to have their voices heard by decision makers in Westminster on this vital issue”.

HS2, which has seen its initial budget rise to £56bn, is due to be phased in between 2026 and 2033. In June, its head was called to answer questions about false figures in its budget for spending on land and property.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “As the future backbone of our national rail network, HS2 is vital for delivering better connections between our major cities with faster and more frequent services, acting as a catalyst for jobs, housing and economic growth.

“We are keeping a tough grip on costs and the HS2 project remains on budget at £55.7bn.”

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, the company running the project, said it had “gained one of the largest cross-party parliamentary majorities of recent years”, adding that “the programme remains on track and within its funding envelope”.

The high-speed line’s development has been marked by unrest among campaigners, but it has received support from business groups that seek to benefit from improved transport links with the capital.

A spokesperson for the Birmingham-based NEC, the largest exhibition centre in the UK, told City A.M.: “We support HS2 as an opportunity to drive economic growth across the Midlands. For us, the two new stations are key – the interchange station representing great news for the entire UK central region as well as the revamped Curzon Street station injecting huge value to the city centre.”

Philip Farrell, interim managing director at the Urban Growth Company – which is advocating for HS2’s arrival in Solihull, in the west Midlands – said the town is seeing “unprecedented investment” as a result of the new line.

“We see HS2 as more than just a train line. An intrinsic part of the wider project is the huge levels of additional investment in local infrastructure,” he added.

Read more: Crossrail woes deepen as budget overshoot could surpass £1bn