Royal assent represented the final piece of a complex legislative puzzle for Phase One of HS2. The announcement came as no surprise in the end. Following the hybrid bill’s third reading in the House of Lords in January, it was a simple formality.
It means that after several years of consultation and debate HS2 now has the powers to build the London to Birmingham link. The question many will now be asking is, what happens now?
HS2 has described 2017 as a year of preparation. Over the coming months, much of the focus will be around carrying out detailed ground investigation and ecological works.
Archaeological investigations will also be conducted as part of the enabling works contracts that were awarded in November 2016. One of the first sites to be studied will be St James’s Gardens at Euston, which up until 1853 had been used as a burial ground. It is one of three historic burial grounds along the route that are having to be exhumed – the other two are St Mary’s churchyard, Stoke Mandeville, which dates back to the medieval period, and Park Street Gardens in Birmingham.
The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) has called the project ‘the largest single archaeological research programme’ in the country and a massive opportunity to train new archaeologists and bolster the profession.
One of the next big milestones is expected in early summer when the main works contractors are appointed. A year of detailed design will follow before construction starts in 2018. While designs for the main civils works are being drawn up, HS2 will begin the procurement for the rolling stock, rail systems and station design contracts.
The announcement last month included a quote from HS2’s chairman, Sir David Higgins. ‘Achieving royal assent for Phase One of HS2 between Birmingham and London with such significant parliamentary support, is a monumental step in transforming rail travel in Britain.
‘We have a long journey ahead of us to build the railway and secure permission for Phase Two to make sure that the full benefits of HS2 are realised. This journey will see businesses right along the route benefit from greater access to the skills, markets and professional services they need to succeed in today’s global market. It will directly create some 25,000 jobs as well as forcing the pace of innovation in the construction industry.’
The announcement on 23 February received a particularly warm response from Midlands Connect, a partnership between local authorities in the West Midlands and national bodies like the Department for Transport (DfT), Network Rail and HS2.
Birmingham’s rail strategy and wider redevelopment plans are all geared towards the new high- speed link. Even though work has been going on in the background independent to HS2, royal assent allows these plans to move forward with confidence.
In a statement welcoming the news, chairman Sir John Peace said, ‘We have already seen investment, growth and other signs of economic optimism arising from just the prospect of HS2 and record numbers of businesses and investors are interested in the region, in part due to the transformational nature of HS2.’
In last year’s Autumn Statement, the chancellor committed £5 million to advance the Midlands Rail Hub (MRH) – a programme of upgrades that will complement the improved capacity and connectivity provided by HS2.
Bordesley Chords, which will link Moor Street station with the Camp Hill Line, is part of MRH. Other projects include four-tracking of the Bordesley viaduct, new platforms at Moor Street, Snow Hill and Kings Norton, and four-tracking of the Water Orton corridor. Midlands Connect say the improvements will create 10 additional train paths an hour into Birmingham, which will be used for East/West Midlands regional and long-distance services.
The MRH will also facilitate the launch of new local services on the Camp Hill Line – to new stations at Moseley, Kings Heath and Hazellwell – and on the Birmingham-Nuneaton-Tamworth/ Burton routes, which will serve new stations at Galley Common (Nuneaton), Kingsbury, Castle Bromwich and/ or Fort Parkway.
These schemes, and others, will help to maximise the connectivity of HS2. Redoubling the line between Kenilworth and Leamington will allow CrossCountry services between Reading and Newcastle to be diverted via Coventry and Birmingham International, which will be a short distance away from HS2’s Birmingham Interchange station. The expectation is that this will release capacity on the existing Leamington- Solihull-Birmingham Moor Street line for other regional services.
Of course, Birmingham will also support the training of new engineers for HS2. In September, the National College for High Speed Rail campus in the city will open and begin training the first of the 9,000 apprentices that are needed for Phase One – a responsibility it will share with its sister site in Doncaster. More than 40 apprentices from a number of the companies that make up the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL) group visited Euston station with Transport Minister Andrew Jones on the day royal assent was granted.
ON TO PHASE 2
While all of this takes place, HS2 and the DfT will be preparing the two separate hybrid bills for phases 2a and 2b, which will extend the line from Birmingham to Crewe and then onto Manchester, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and Leeds. Many of the decisions for the route of Phase Two have now been made apart from the location of the interchange station in Sheffield.
The hybrid bill for 2a should be submitted to parliament by the end of this year and 2b by the end of 2019. If the remaining sections receive the same level of parliamentary backing, the full network will stay on course to open as planned in 2033.
This article has been updated from the print version to clarify that, while not served by passenger trains, the Camp Hill Line is still open to freight traffic. The line is not disused.