Wigan Council and business chiefs welcome HS2 go-ahead - but not everyone is happy
Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood up in Parliament today to confirm that HS2 is a goer, despite a Government-commissioned review's recently showing that projected costs of the scheme have trebled since it was first tabled and the fact that there is opposition in some quarters based on the environmental damage it would cause and the fear that it will drain cash from other transport projects.
He said that despite “poor management” he believes in the “fundamental value” of HS2, as he gave the go-ahead to the rail scheme.
He told MPs: “When it comes to advocating HS2, it must be said that the task is not made easier by HS2 Ltd, the company concerned.
“Speaking as an MP whose constituency is on the route, I cannot say that HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities.”
He added: “But poor management to date has not detracted, in my view, from the fundamental value of the project. The review recently conducted by Douglas Oakervee ... leaves no doubt of the clinching case for high-speed rail.
“A vast increase in capacity with hundreds of thousands of extra seats making it much easier for travellers to move up and down our long, narrow country.
“And that means faster journey times, not just more capacity.”
Mr Johnson added: “This is not just about getting from London to Birmingham and back. This is about finally making a rapid connection from the West Midlands to the Northern Powerhouse, to Liverpool, to Manchester, to Leeds and simultaneously permitting us to go forward with Northern Powerhouse Rail across the Pennines - finally giving the home of the railways the fast connections they need.
"And none of that, none of it makes any sense without HS2.”
Mr Johnson said: “If we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade. And to ensure that we do so without further blowouts on either costs or schedule we are today taking decisive action to restore discipline to the programme.”
Wigan would be the last stop on the track north from London which would benefit from a high speed link, thereafter the service would slow back down to current speeds.
Leader of Wigan Council, David Molyneux, said: “We welcome the announcement today on the HS2 review.
"As long-term supporters of the high-speed rail route, we believe that it should be delivered as soon as possible to benefit Wigan and the whole of the North West.
“Wigan is one of only a small number of places nationally that will have a high speed rail station and HS2’s arrival here would position us as a transport hub for rail travellers from Lancashire, Merseyside and Cheshire as well as Wigan.
"Significantly improved connections for the north will also go a long way to rebalancing our country’s economy.”
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham also welcomed the news but said he would be holding the Government to account, saying: "What we don't want is one rule for London to Birmingham and another for Birmingham to the North," adding that HS2 should not be at the expense of other transport investment needed to get the North up to speed.
But Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance said: "This announcement is a massive blow to the taxpayers of today and tomorrow who will be left paying for the HS2 white elephant with no light at the end of the tunnel.
"The government seems to have taken steps to stop HS2 Ltd calling the shots, but now needs to get to grips with the scale of the challenge ahead."
Chris Fletcher, Greater Manchester Chamber’s Policy, Campaigns and Communications Director, said: “Today’s announcement by government on HS2 is a definitive, positive step forward with this crucial project delivering the next stage and transformation of the UK rail network. The Chamber has been a long-time supporter of HS2 and this is vindication that this is the right scheme to help promote future growth and unblock huge swathes of the rail network.
“Reports beforehand did cause some concern with the talk about a review being held into the northern phase however it does seem that this will, with minimal disruption to timings, and backed by the National Infrastructure Commission help tackle costs and also make sure that the best integration with local networks takes place. This is how the project will help deliver those genuine local benefits across a far greater area.
“The repackaging of the scheme into High Speed North, the appointment of a Minister and proposed changes to key management all point to a substantial step change by government. We shall of course continue to campaign and work towards the full delivery of the UK’s high speed rail network and today’s announcement gives us renewed confidence.
“Further announcements will be made in the March budget and we await with interest to see what these are including hopefully a long overdue decision on the Castlefield Corridor in Manchester which is necessary as an immediate rail network improvement without which train services will continue to be affected across the north and beyond.
“Other announcements made as part of the government’s transport revolution are also welcome and the investment in cycling and buses are especially relevant here in Greater Manchester with ambitious plans already in place.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Our research shows passengers want more reliable, longer trains for the future. Reliability is the key driver of current satisfaction. And if the new trains go faster, that helps.
“HS2 provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create more capacity and more reliable services. These new services will make train travel a more attractive choice and help contribute to battling climate change.
“Just as important is the space freed up on existing lines and avoiding the pain and extra expense of trying to upgrade existing lines. Passengers will be paying for some of the new lines through fares so cost control is crucial. Let’s get on and build all the component parts of HS2 into a modern and reliable railway.”
Environmental groups called for a redesign of the HS2 project, which they say will carve through ancient woods and other wild places, and damage rare wildlife from barn owls to butterflies.
They warned that the climate crisis could not be tackled by damaging nature, and called for a focus on local public transport to cut carbon emissions from travel rather than the large-scale rail infrastructure project.
Adam Cormack, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust, said the scheme would "shoot a poisoned arrow through the heart of our ancient woods and their wildlife".
"Future generations won't forget the disregard shown for the environmental costs of HS2, especially at a time when recognition has never been greater of the need to protect the environment in the face of the climate and nature emergency," he said.
"The Government is riding roughshod over its own environmental ambitions and ignoring lessons learned from the past, by allowing destruction of ancient woodland and other important habitats on this scale."
Nikki Williams, from The Wildlife Trusts, said nature is paying too high a price for HS2.
"Today's announcement means that it is more critical than ever that the whole project is redesigned - before HS2 creates a scar that can never heal.
"It is vital that HS2 does not devastate or destroy irreplaceable meadows, ancient woodlands and internationally important wetlands that are home to a huge range of wildlife, from barn owls to butterflies.
"Green and sustainable transport is vital, but the climate emergency will not be solved by making the nature crisis worse."
Friends of the Earth's campaigns director Jamie Peters said: "HS2 is a costly and damaging mistake which will threaten wildlife, destroy ancient woodlands and do nothing to reduce climate-wrecking pollution.
"Anyone who has tried to take public transport recently can tell you why building HS2 is completely the wrong decision.
"The estimated £100 billion earmarked for this project would be better spent fixing the dilapidated commuter rail network and funding other initiatives to encourage people out of their cars."
He said the £5 billion from the Government for bus and cycling infrastructure is a "nod in the right direction" but falls far short of what is needed to build a low-carbon transport network to deal with the climate crisis.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: "We're totally in favour of a transport revolution that cuts pollution and carbon emissions, but bulldozing through irreplaceable wildlife and nature sites is not the way to go about it."
He said Boris Johnson's decision to green-light HS2 would make the PM "this century's largest destroyer of ancient woodlands in the UK", with more than 100 ancient woodlands set to be destroyed or damaged, along with 33 sites of special scientific interests and hundreds of local wildlife sites.
"Giving the go-ahead to such a costly and damaging project is a missed opportunity.
"The Prime Minister should have created a first-class regional rail and bus service, up and running across the North in years rather than decades and without adding to the climate and nature emergency," he said.