Speech

Making HS2 happen

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

HS2 speech at the Transport Times Conference.

[Introduced by Professor David Begg, Publisher of Transport Times.]

Opening remarks

Thank you for that kind introduction David… it’s a pleasure to be here today.

And many thanks to you… and to everybody at Transport Times and the Railway Industry Association… for organising this event.

I can’t think of too many people or organisations that could have got a conference like this up and running… or brought together an audience as expert and distinguished as this… at such a short notice.

My congratulations for delivering it on time, presumably on budget.

Consultation

The announcement I made a fortnight ago was the culmination of a vast programme of work over the past year.

The HS2 consultation was one of the largest in the Department for Transport’s history.

We had five months of intensive engagement. 41 days of roadshow attended by almost 33,000 people. And almost 55,000 consultation responses.

And systematically going through the evidence and the alternatives, it was clear to me that the argument in favour of HS2 was compelling.

A modern,fast reliable, railway that will:

  • transform connections between our cities, regions and the Continent
  • truly rebalance our economic geography, with a legacy of jobs, growth and opportunity for generations to come
  • and change the way we travel, just as the first railway did in the 19th century

But behind the headline statistics, HS2 is also about believing in better.

Do we believe in just making do. Is that all we have to offer our future generations?

This government passionately believes they deserve so much more. In the same way that we are not prepared to leave them with a fiscal deficit, neither should we leave them with an infrastructure deficit.

And the children and students I meet at my local primary and secondary school - what kind of a Britain do we want to create for them? And, how can we make sure our country will be able to match their ambition?

For too long in this country, we have failed to grasp the nettle on the decisions that will help us achieve our long term aspirations.

We can’t simply hope for a better, more prosperous future - we will have to build it. We won’t suddenly wake up to a successful Britain, we have to create it.

If we want to live in a country that can compete and thrive in the global economy, and where our children can realise their full potential, then we have to tackle the problems that are holding us back.

And that’s what HS2 is all about…

It’s about understanding that we have a responsibility to make choices today that will improve our economy and people’s quality of life, not just in the next four or five years, but in the next four or five decades.

Restating the case

Now there are some people who question the size of our ambitions. Who say that Britain cannot support such a scheme in such austere times.

Well today I’d like to reassure them that this is the right scheme at the right time.

But to do that, I think I need to clear up some of the claims about HS2 that I’ve read in recent weeks.

Some commentators have said we are spending £32 billion building a new line between London and Birmingham.

Well I have good news for them. £32 billion will buy us a national high speed network, linking London and Birmingham with Leeds, Manchester, South Yorkshire and the East Midlands - and forming the base of what we hope is an even bigger network extending to Scotland in the future.

Some people have focused purely on HS2’s time savings - claiming the investment is poor value just to shave a few minutes off today’s journeys.

Well HS2 will certainly reduce journey times. In fact it will slash the trip from Birmingham to Leeds in half, and cut the Manchester to London time from 2hrs 8mins today to just 1hr 8mins.

These are dramatic time savings that will offer a step change in services.

Valuable as faster journeys are - and passengers tell us that the time factor is very important to them - more crucial is the substantial capacity boost that HS2 will deliver, reducing the increasingly overwhelming pressure on existing road and rail networks…

A rail network that will simply end up full in many places. If we don’t take action, people say put more trains on the track, have more carriages on the trains on the track, well that’s what we’ve been doing! There’s no other way we would have lasted on a Victorian railway network otherwise. But common sense tells you that can’t go on forever. And after 110 years we’ve nearly got to the end of forever. On some of our tracks there is simply isn’t going to be any more space.

… so we need MORE track.

But high speed rail will provide up to 18 high speed trains per hour, each with up to 1000 seats… more room on the current railway as well… greater reliability; better performance; and more comfortable long distance travel.

Without investment in new capacity, our main rail arteries will grind to a halt during the 2020s, with disruption, overcrowding, and damage to our economy.

With demand for long-distance rail doubling over the past 15 years, inter-city trains are already becoming overcrowded, and commuters who may have no practical alternative to train travel are forced to stand on long journeys.

Unreliable, congested, transport would send out a message to investors that Britain doesn’t really care about its infrastructure… or that we are incapable of delivering major projects.

For a modern, developed economy, that’s not good enough.

And to continue to ignore the problem is no more an option that pretending our A-road system would have managed without the motorways.

Of course, we are doing what we can to modernise our current railway with £18 billion of investment committed in the Spending Review, and pressing ahead with our plans to max out the capacity on the current track.

But even with that investment, the scope for squeezing out ever-more out of our ageing rail infrastructure is diminishing.

So it is simply not good enough to criticise schemes like HS2 unless there is a practical alternative.

And those alternatives that have been proposed have fallen short.

Upgrading existing major north-south lines would only provide a short term fix, and would consign passengers to years of disruption, delays and misery.

And high speed offers much better value than a new conventional north-south rail line - delivering £6.2 billion more in benefits for an extra investment of just £1.4 billion.

So high speed will give an additional return on the investment of more than four to one.

All the evidence has been considered. And we are clear that the only long term solution to the capacity crunch we face on our railways is high speed rail.

Some people think the capacity crunch will somehow naturally melt away.

One commentator claimed that high speed rail would soon be obsolete, because the advance in computers will mean that more people work from home. And rather than speed up, he actually suggested we ought to find ways to slow down.

Well I don’t share his analysis.

We’ve seen mobile and Internet connectivity through technology transform in the past 15 years - and people have never travelled by train more.

And we will not get people back to work and secure economic recovery by putting a brake on progress, and telling passengers they have got to put up with slower journeys.

We all know that the world is moving ever faster. Technology is always developing. And we have to prepare for a faster future if we want Britain to prosper.

Who wants slower broadband? Who would choose to have a slow train journey rather than a fast one? And how can businesses hope to compete if they cannot transport goods around the country quickly and efficiently?

Modern manufacturers and retailers rely on just-in-time distribution to maintain profitability. Slowing down transport would merely act as a further barrier to investment, and as a drain on growth.

HS2 is about the nuts and bolts of Britain, and making our infrastructure work for us.

In country after country around the world, high speed rail has proved to be hugely popular with a wide market. Countries that have it invariably build more.

Today, high speed rail is a success around the world because it has a mass market.

HS2 will benefit every type of traveller - not just on the new network, but on existing lines too. More space and capacity freed up will help drive competition on the railway, changing the way rail travel is marketed and sold.

I do though, of course, accept that there is no easy way to build a train line through our country.

I understand and respect the concerns of people living or working near the line and we have gone to very great lengths to mitigate its impact - including a package of extra alterations announced on January 10th.

Of the 13 miles through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, less than 2 miles will be at or above the surface… the rest will be in deep cutting or tunnel.

These changes will bring significant benefits to communities and the environment; and, in fact, compared to the consultation route there will be a more than 50 per cent increase in tunnel or green tunnel.

And I welcome the comments of Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who said the government had been sensitive to the impact that HS2 would have on communities and the countryside; and that their legitimate concerns about the effects of high speed on the landscape had been heard.

I will do my level best to work closely with communities as the High Speed project progresses.

Industry opportunities

But of course there is another very key benefit of high speed that has not been reflected in much of the coverage over the past two weeks: the opportunities and jobs it will it provide for the rail industry in Britain; the jobs it will create for your companies and organisations.

For engineering and technology companies; rail operators; suppliers and component manufacturers; for infrastructure specialists; and many, many others.

All stand to gain as we write a new chapter in the story of rail innovation in Britain.

It will present this industry with a massive challenge.

Delivering a major national programme on time and on budget.

I believe we can meet that challenge and I believe we can develop expertise so British companies can compete successfully for key contracts.

The government’s National Infrastructure Plan sets out the importance of a predictable and transparent long-term pipeline of infrastructure projects that will help the private sector plan ahead and invest in technology and skills.

HS2 will form a key element of that long-term pipeline, providing certainty about future contracting opportunities following the completion of Crossrail in 2017.

To ensure that the UK-based supply chain is in a position to benefit as far as possible from this project, this government will open a dialogue with potential UK-based suppliers to ensure they are well-placed to bid competitively.

You are already helping us deliver Crossrail, Thameslink, upgrades to major rail hubs like Reading and Birmingham New Street, and a major programme of electrification.

But I also want to put our best minds to work on high speed rail. To find uniquely British solutions to the challenges we face.

I want Britain to become a centre of excellence for high speed rail technologies and services, with a world-class R&D capability.

Sometimes we may collaborate with companies from other countries.

But from the very start our priority must be to develop the home-grown skills and capabilities that will not only help deliver HS2 - but that can then be used in other markets as high speed rail is increasingly adopted by countries around the world.

Looking ahead

Now is the time to reject the short termism of the past, and get our long term future back on track.

The evidence from around the world is clear: as a fast, sustainable and viable way of long-distance, mass transport, high speed rail has no modern equal.

It’s the right transport programme for passengers; for freight; and for rebalancing our economy.

I’ve seen the incredible enthusiasm for HS2 across our great cities. Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, these cities know the transformational value high speed rail will have.

They rightly believe that the future success of their regions and their communities depends on schemes like this - which will create opportunities on their doorstep. I will work hand-in-hand with them to make sure the jobs and the growth that we all hope for, actually happen.

I know most of us here today are convinced of the case for high speed.

But there are many who perfectly understandably will want to continue the debate. I welcome the opportunity to set out our case. Because it is strong and compelling.

But it is also important those who understand the benefits of HS2 continue to make their voices heard, and continue to highlight the transformational impact it will have on our railway and on our economy. Now more than ever our case needs to be made positively, clearly and fully informed by the facts.

We will prepare for a hybrid bill by the end of 2013, including a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment to provide the necessary powers to construct and operate the line from London to Birmingham.

This spring we will consult on the draft directions for safeguarding the proposed route from London to the West Midlands, as well as separately consulting on detailed compensation proposals.

In March HS2 Ltd will advise me on route and station options to Manchester, Leeds and Heathrow, and later in 2012 we will start informal consultation on a preferred route.

Conclusion

To conclude, these plans will set in motion the most important transport project in this country since the coming of the motorways.

I warmly welcome the political consensus on HS2, on the basis that it will help ensure that the planning and construction of this transformational scheme is carried through to completion.

This is an incredibly exciting time for everyone who cares about Britain’s railway and preserving its critical role supporting our economy.

But the benefits of HS2 will be felt well beyond the network and the passengers who use it.

This is a national scheme in the national interest.

It’s about raising our sights. Future-proofing Britain’s railway so we don’t wake up in 20 years’ time with a gridlocked railway regretting that we hadn’t been bolder today.

And remembering that Britain can no more turn its back on the positive potential of high-speed rail than it could have opted out of the steam age.

We will build high speed two. We will make sure our country and our cities are connected for success.

And we will have in place the railway capacity that our future generations need for their success.

They need our plans put into action more than any of us here today and this government will not let them down.