Last week saw HS2 reach another milestone with the conclusion of the Petitioning phase undertaken by the Hybrid Bill Select Committee, which began its work in May, 2014.
HS2Ltd took the opportunity to pull yet another big rabbit out of the hat.
Speaking in Shropshire, Mike Lyons, project director for HS2 Ltd revealed plans were being drawn up to help the county make the most of Britain’s new high speed rail network. He said about £4.4 billion had been allocated to ensure that towns and cities which lie off the main route – including Telford and Shrewsbury – could capitalise on HS2 once it is up and running. While the route did not come into Shropshire, the building work for the line is going to lead to huge opportunities for local companies.
How the £4.4 will be allocated was not made clear but it is a safe bet that the sum will be dangled in front of other towns and cities along the route over the coming months.
Clarification of where this vast amount of money was coming from was left for another day.
There are three possibilities in this respect:
First, the £4.4bn represents a new tranche of money that will be added to the £55.7bn price tag in due course.
Second, the figure announced by Mr Lyons wil be coming from a separate pot that will be kept of the HS2 balance sheet.
Third, the money will be found from the existing budget.
Of the three, the last option is the least likely as it would be in direct contradiction to the previous comments of HS2 Ltd Chairman, Sir David Higgins. In 2014 he told the House of Lord Economic Affairs Committee that the project’s budget bought you the line and the rolling stock.
So we wait for someone from HS2 Ltd or the DfT to enlighten us.
With the expectation that the Chancellor is going to tell the nation, in his upcoming Budget, to prepare for further belt-tightening, HS2 continues to represent a licence to print money.
Moreover, as Simon Jenkins said recently: “What is incontrovertible is that big projects must squeeze out smaller, more easily cancelled ones. If HS2 proceeds, it is a commonplace among transport planners that all other big rail projects will be vulnerable. I have not spoken to a single northern politician or business leader who, if offered £50bn of taxpayers’ money, would regard a faster link to London as the priority”.