By Paul Goodman
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Cheryl Gillan put the case against HS2 on this site last year after the West Coast mainline debacle. Here is the case for the project that Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, has made in a letter to MPs from all parties. Cabinet members have met "in the north" this morning, as further routes details of the scheme are announced.
"As you may know, I will soon announce the Government’s preferences for the route of the second section of High Speed Two. This will take the new line north from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds and include stations in the East Midlands and Sheffield.
This is a big moment for a vital project. It is one supported by both this government and the last one and one that has the power to transform Britain.
High Speed Britain
Britain has a proud history when it comes to the railways and demand is growing rapidly now. Our trains carry more people than at any time since the Second World War. We’re investing in new trains and electrification of many of our railway lines. But we also need to invest in new routes.
We’ve not built a new line north since 1899 and, more than a century on, it shows. The three main lines from London north are filling up and links between cities in the north and Midlands are often poor. For years, we have watched other countries modernise their transport links, while ours have grown increasingly overstretched. The further we fall behind, the harder it is to compete.
That’s why I believe that HS2 is the right project for Britain. I know it is controversial. Major infrastructure projects always are. I know it will take time, cost money and, while it is being planned and built, it will worry many of those affected by it. I’ve listened and will continue to listen to all the arguments. As Secretary of State, it is my job to help.
But it is also my job to make sure Britain has a transport system which can help all parts of our economy grow. HS2 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our country’s connectivity, capacity and competitiveness. It is a project that can become a priceless national asset, which is why it is backed by entrepreneurs, businesses, passengers, and many local authorities.
I want to use the announcement of the full route to the north as a springboard to getting on and delivering the project. This isn’t a theoretical scheme. It is one well on the way to legislation and construction, a challenge every bit as big as the London Olympics and one I know we can meet every bit as well.
That is why the government is determined to complete HS2. We have already completed the consultation on the route for Phase 1 and in the year ahead we will begin seeking powers from Parliament to construct the London to Birmingham section, with construction beginning in 2017.
It is true it will take time. But as someone who has served the Department for Transport twice with a twenty year gap in between, I know that transport planning is not done overnight. But children who are born on the day of the announcement will be able to travel high speed from London to Birmingham as young teenagers, and all the way up the line to Manchester and Leeds when they reach university age.
Sensitive design and fair compensation
It is essential we limit the impact on people and properties that are affected. We will be compensating people fairly, with a scheme more generous than offered when we built our motorway network and extended from when we built HS1. I will set out more details of this when we make the second phase announcement.
I am just as keen to limit the impact on communities and the natural environment. I believe the work we have done on Phase 1 – where more than half the route will be in tunnels or cuttings – is evidence of that commitment. As MP for a rural constituency in Derbyshire, I am fully aware of the importance of protecting the countryside.
It is also vital that we work to the highest design standards. New bridges, viaducts, tunnels and other infrastructure will be needed for HS2. The Government wants to see designs that are sympathetic to their settings and that demonstrate the best in British design and innovation.
A chance to shape Britain’s future
As HS2 enters a new phase that will see it debated in parliament you will be able to play a significant role in enabling it to realise its full potential. I hope that you will take it. There is much to discuss and no doubt much that can be improved. But this is a project with strong support from government and opposition alike and a project that will become as essential to our national life and prosperity as our motorways and existing railways. It is a great opportunity for Britain and I think we should seize it."