The debate about whether to build HS2 is over; now we must discuss delivery.
My message to today’s (16 September 2015) conference is clear.
HS2 is happening, and it’s time to get ready.
The HS2 bill is making steady progress through the House of Commons.
And we are on track to receive Royal Assent by the end of 2016.
Before the election, we put HS2 in our manifesto as part of our plan to rebalance the economy.
To transform Britain’s infrastructure by creating new connectivity in the north.
To release much-needed capacity in the south.
To secure thousands of skilled apprenticeships and jobs across the country.
It was a vision backed by the electorate.
They gave us 5 clear years.
By which time this project will be well past the point of no return.
Since May, we have wasted no time.
Over the summer we started recruiting for HS2’s design panel.
The team of designers who will help decide how HS2 will look and feel.
Lord Adonis joined HS2 Ltd’s board.
And last week we announced our plans for Euston, plans that will reduce disruption and allow us to turn the station into a thriving transport and community hub.
In the coming year, the HS2 bill is set to pass through the hybrid Bill committee and reach third reading.
And we will also announce how we will take forward HS2’s northern sections, from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.
So the debate about whether to build HS2 is over.
Now it’s time to discuss the detail of delivery.
And how cities should plan to benefit from the new HS2 network.
I am pleased to see these themes running through today’s conference.
Because those are the themes I want to talk about today.
The progress we’ve made with the HS2 bill means that we are on course to start building in less than 2 years’ time.
We have a clear plan.
To go from managing the HS2 bill through Parliament, to managing the deployment of the thousands of infrastructure professionals along with all the materials and machinery we need to start building the line in 2017.
We are starting the procurement process by preparing the contracts that will be signed as soon as the bill has passed; some of the largest value contracts in UK construction history.
Generating tens of thousands of opportunities.
Sixty percent of which we expect to be awarded to small- and medium-sized businesses.
We need everything from architects to aggregates, steel and surveyors, to engineers and environmental consultants.
We estimate that HS2 will create 25,000 jobs during construction and 3,000 jobs when in operation.
Not just on site, but right across the UK.
Earlier in the summer, HS2 Ltd visited Wales to engage Welsh firms interested in opportunities on HS2.
Last week, HS2 was in Northern Ireland.
And in coming weeks they will visit Scotland.
Skills and apprenticeships
The jobs that HS2 will create are an incredible opportunity for the UK, but also a major challenge.
Because while we need 25,000 skilled professionals for HS2, our investment in the existing rail and road networks is creating another 20,000 jobs.
And that’s at the same time as we need skilled people for all our other great infrastructure projects such as flood defences, nuclear power stations and perhaps even Crossrail 2.
We need many more engineers, surveyors, construction workers, planners, drainage experts and even arboriculturists.
So we are getting ready now.
We will write into the statute book our commitment to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, many of which will serve infrastructure.
And we are supporting specialised colleges.
The Crossrail Tunnelling Academy has enrolled over 10,000 students since opening in 2012.
This autumn the National Training Academy for Rail will open in Northampton.
And in 2017, we will open the National College for High Speed Rail.
Together, these institutions will form a national network of transport infrastructure skills academies to train the transport workers of the future.
That is how we will get to the point of construction for HS2.
Old Oak Common
But getting construction under-way is just the beginning.
We need to plan for day the line is open.
And how it will transform travel between our cities, as well as transforming the locations it serves.
Take Old Oak Common.
A place that hasn’t received the same attention as Euston or Birmingham’s Curzon Street – yet.
But a place to which HS2 will bring profound change.
Old Oak Common is 155 acres of brownfield and industrial land in north-west London.
It is larger than Canary Wharf or the Olympic Park.
And under our plans for HS2, it will be home to one of Britain’s most important transport hubs.
With a station served not just by HS2, but also Crossrail, the Heathrow Express, and trains serving the west of England and South Wales on the Great Western Main Line.
It will be used by up to a quarter of a million passengers every day, providing much-faster connections between Birmingham and Heathrow, Stratford and London’s West End.
In fact, we estimate that one third of HS2 passengers will use Old Oak Common as their connection hub rather than Euston.
We know the power of transport to regenerate communities.
We have seen it at Kings Cross and around many of the high speed stations in France.
And now we are about to see it at Old Oak Common.
In April, the Mayor of London set up a Development Corporation to ensure we seize this opportunity.
If we get it right, our plans for the area could provide 55,000 jobs and 24,000 new homes.
It will turn Old Oak Common into a destination every bit as important as Euston, Paddington, Kings Cross or Birmingham New Street.
Those are just a few examples of how we are getting ready for HS2.
Procurement, training and local planning.
Themes that you will cover in much more detail throughout today.
And that’s why we welcome conferences like today’s.
This is an opportunity for our national experts to debate best practice, to learn from the past and from one another.
In the next few years we will need that expertise, as we follow in the footsteps of our Victorian forebears, and build HS2.