The Government has responded to the petition “With ‘notice to proceed’ delayed again, halt all HS2 enabling work immediately.” There is much to criticise in their response.
Enabling works on HS2 in Buckinghamshire continue to be carried out to ensure that construction of the railway can proceed smoothly once HS2 Ltd have received final authorisation from the Government.
The Government is committed to delivering HS2 from London to Birmingham and on to Crewe, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. There are already well over 7,000 people and 2,000 businesses working to deliver the project. At the peak of construction there will be 30,000 people working on HS2 with 70% of these jobs based outside London.
Britain’s rail network is almost full. Demand on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) has increased 190% since 1995. People are often standing the whole way on long distance journeys and we need a solution. The line is close to capacity at peak times and it is difficult to increase service levels further.
The Government’s analysis shows that, as a new line, HS2 is the best option for taking pressure off the existing rail network and adding capacity where it is needed most to accommodate growth and improve resilience. By providing direct inter-city services on dedicated high-speed lines, HS2 will free up space on the West and East Coast mainlines. The new line will improve passenger experience and allow operators to run more services.
HS2 Phase One has been approved by Parliament with the overwhelming support of MP’s, being passed by a majority of 399 to 42 in its final vote in the House of Commons. The contracts for the main engineering work have been awarded and are based upon a two-stage design and build strategy. Main construction works including building tunnels, bridges, embankments, cuttings and viaducts are due to commence following Notice-to-Proceed.
Notice-to-Proceed is the formal contractual process which enables Phase One suppliers to move from the design and development phase to construction. The Government will only authorise HS2 Ltd to move to this stage once it is satisfied about both affordability and value for money. The Government will publish an updated full business case for Phase One once HS2 Ltd has reached agreement with its suppliers.
The works taking place now in Buckinghamshire are vital to allow main construction to take place, following Notice-to-Proceed. HS2 early works also include detailed ground investigations to better understand the precise geology along the line of route of HS2.
Without these investigations and the information they will provide, engineers would have to make assumptions about whether the ground is able to support the necessary structures and earthworks. Failing to carry out this work would make HS2 more expensive and take longer to build.
In addition, if ground investigation is not carried out early there will not be enough time to redesign the works to reflect the actual ground conditions so the chance to significantly reduce cost would be lost.
The Government wants HS2 to be one of the most environmentally responsible infrastructure projects ever delivered in the UK, and managing its impact on the environment during construction is a high priority. The project will deliver a new green corridor made up of more than 650 hectares of new woodland, wetland and wildlife habitats alongside the line. More than seven million new native trees and shrubs will be planted to help blend the line into the landscape and leave a lasting legacy of high-quality green spaces all along the route. This will include more than 33 square kilometres of new and existing wildlife habitat – an increase of around 30% compared to what is there now.
Many of the early works that are now taking place on HS2 are activities aimed at securing this environmental legacy. For instance, over 350,000 trees have already been planted as part of the scheme. This work is being done now to ensure that plants and habitats become fully established as early as possible, alongside construction of the railway.
Alongside delivering Phase One, the Government is proceeding with plans for Phase Two of HS2 which will go north from the West Midlands to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. The hybrid Bill for Phase 2a (the section of the route from the West Midlands to Crewe) is progressing through Parliament.
The Government is also committed to Phase 2b of HS2 which will transform connections from the West Midlands to Leeds and from Crewe and Manchester. A hybrid Bill will be brought to Parliament in 2020 for this part of the scheme which will include interfaces with Northern Powerhouse Rail.
The connectivity HS2 will provide between cities in the Midlands and the North will transform those economies. That is why regional leaders support HS2. The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce have called Phase 2 of HS2 “a game changer for our region”. Judith Blake, the Leader of Leeds City Council, has said that HS2 will, “deliver enormous economic benefits” and “huge improvements in connectivity”.
Department for Transport.