So, HS2 is going ahead, much to the relief of many in the railway construction industry.
The report of the Oakervee Review has been published, and it recommended that, “on balance”, Ministers should proceed with the HS2 project, subject to various qualifications.
Then, later that same day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood in the House of Commons and declared: “The Cabinet has given high-speed rail the green signal. We are going to get this done.”
However, thanks to Oakervee’s conclusions and to the government’s concern over delivery times and costs, the HS2 that goes ahead won’t be quite what was expected.
In his address to the House, the Prime Minister criticised the management of the project to date. “When it comes to advocating HS2, it must be said that the task is not made easier by HS2 Ltd – the company concerned,” he stated. “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. As everybody knows, the cost forecasts have exploded.
“I will be appointing a Minister whose full-time job will be to oversee the project. A new Ministerial oversight group will be tasked with taking strategic decisions about it. There will be changes to the way HS2 is managed.” That minister will be Andrew Stephenson MP.
Then he added: “So that the company can focus solely on getting phases 1 and 2a built on something approaching on time and on budget, I will be creating new delivery arrangements for both the grossly behind-schedule Euston terminus, and Phase 2b of the wider project.”
Did that mean that HS2 Ltd might not build Phase 2b – the route to Manchester and Leeds?
The Department for Transport (DfT) later announced that it is working on an integrated rail plan for the Midlands and the North. Working with HS2 Ltd and local leaders, and informed by an assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the DfT will draw up an integrated rail plan for the Midlands and the North, as recommended by Oakervee. It will also proceed with the legislation that is needed to allow for the development of Phase 2b’s Manchester leg, so long as it does not prejudge any recommendations or decisions that will be taken in this plan.
The announcement pointed out that legislation for Phase 2b can be put through Parliament in two or more hybrid bills, which may run concurrently.
The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) will now conduct a review of the lessons that can be learned from HS2 Phases 1 and 2a and that can be applied to Phase 2b as part of the integrated rail plan, which should be published by the end of the year.