Update: As is typical of the weasel wording used by the Department for Transport, the situation over the HS2-Heathrow link is a lot more murky that the written answer would make it appear. With the specific wording, it might be built after Phase 2 is completed. The Department for Transport say the link is not actually cancelled: that decision is still waiting for the Airports Commission report on where to expand airports. But as the Phase 2 route announcement has been delayed from last year to possibly 2016, this could be a long wait.
The day before the fifth anniversary of the original announcement of HS2, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has ditched a commitment from the last Conservative manifesto to link Heathrow to HS2, a proposal which they said at the time would negate the need to expand the airport.
The 2010 Conservative Manifesto (Pg 23) stated:
“Because travel abroad is so important for our economy and for family holidays, we need to improve our airports and reduce the environmental impact of flying. Our goal is to make Heathrow airport better, not bigger. We will stop the third runway and instead link Heathrow directly to our high speed rail network, providing an alternative to thousands of flights.”
However, in a written answer to Beaconsfield MP Dominic Grieve, McLoughlin today turned both of those points on their head:
“I am aware that the proposed Heathrow spur causes great concern to local residents. I would now like to make clear that we do not intend to build the spur as part of Phase 1 or 2 of the HS2 scheme.”
“In November 2014, the Airports Commission published a high-level review of the implications of a HS2 spur on surface access to Heathrow Airport, as part of the supporting technical documents for their public consultation on the three short-listed schemes for airport expansion. This review indicated that an HS2 spur is highly unlikely to be necessary to support any expansion of Heathrow airport.”
Scrapping the link to Heathrow will not reduce the current, yet outdated, £50bn estimate for the HS2 project, as that figure did not include costs for a Heathrow link. Whilst ministers had claimed the cost of linking Heathrow to HS2 would be in the range of £2bn, in 2011 a report from ARUP which was leaked to the Uxbridge Gazette, showed eleven options for the link with a price range of £7.3bn to £8.7bn.
Despite the fact McLoughlin was in front of the Transport Select Committee yesterday, this announcement has been quietly released via a written statement, on the very day that the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee started to hear petitions from residents of Denham, one of the two communities directly affected by the ‘passive provisions’ in the HS2 Phase 1 Bill. Residents from Denham and Ickenham have until now been told that mitigation proposals for their areas have not been possible, as the line has to be designed in such a way as to allow spurs to Heathrow to be added at a later date. Whether this announcement will now allow mitigation in these areas, is yet to be seen.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin responded:
“The fact this announcement has been sneaked out the very day people affected by the proposed HS2-Heathrow link started appearing before the HS2 Committee is typical of the attitude the Government have, whereby those impacted by HS2 are always the last to know what is proposed.”
“The Conservatives have completely turned their manifesto promise on it’s head. They said HS2 would mean Heathrow did not need to be expanded, but now they are saying expansion of Heathrow means HS2 does not need to go there. Like when they scrapped the link to HS1, the Government have decided to cut the functionality of HS2 in a desperate attempt to stop the costs going up again. Another justification of the supposed ‘need’ for HS2 has just gone out of the window, but dogmatic politicians are still wedded to this white elephant, no matter little ‘need’ for it remains.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said
“The original Conservative idea for a high speed rail line was to link to Heathrow and stop the need for expansion of Heathrow. Their manifesto from the last election was very clear on this issue. When they came into government one of the big changes to HS2 that the Coalition made was to to add the Heathrow spur.”
“This latest change to the HS2 plans has knocked out the original Conservative rationale for proposing high speed rail. The excuse given that the spur is not needed to expand Heathrow, shows that their transport policy regarding rail and airports, was never thought through properly. HS2 doesn’t link to HS1. It doesn’t go to the main hub airport. We call on our parties to look at HS2 properly, to look at the massive increase in the budget for HS2 and commit to cancelling HS2 as soon as possible.”
“When McLoughlin was speaking to the Transport Select Committee on Monday, he could have let them know that the Heathrow spur for HS2 was being dropped. Instead the Department for Transport sneaked it out as a written answer.”