Maria Eagle’s comments on HS2 and high speed rail to the Airport Operators Association yesterday has received a lot of political comment and press coverage. (Penny Gaines, Joe Rukin and other Stop HS2 supporters have had a number of radio interviews about the announcement.)
An overview of the speech is here.
The full text of what Maria Eagle said specifically on high speed rail:
I want to make one additional practical proposal to Government that will be of benefit to Heathrow.
The proposed high speed rail line, HS2, was a scheme that we first set out in Government. It involves investment across several spending review periods and parliaments and it is a project that requires clear cross-party support.
I have looked very carefully at this project over the past year and concluded that there was no credible alternative way of addressing the capacity issues on our existing main rail lines between North and South. And while reducing journey times is important and brings with it economic benefits, it is the need to increase capacity that makes this new line so essential.
But if the main purpose of this major investment is capacity, not speed – then it’s right that we strike the correct balance between the benefits of reducing journey time between specific cities and ensuring the line contributes to the wider economy. And that isn’t a balance we got right in the plans we began and the Government is taking forward.
I am convinced it is a huge mistake not to connect direct to Heathrow from the start.
Taking the line via our major hub airport would remove the need to build an expensive spur later while opening up the prospect of private sector funding, potentially saving the taxpayer billions. It would lead to a new route that makes better use of existing transport corridors and avoids an area of outstanding natural beauty where residents were wrongly insulted as ‘NIMBYs’ by Tory Ministers. It also opens up the opportunity to connect to the Great Western mainline, bringing the benefits of the high speed line to the South West and Wales. And we have to find a more coherent way of linking to HS1, so that the opportunity to develop through services from the continent to the Midlands and beyond can become a reality.
Consulting on this new route would allow time for work to be completed on the precise route for the rest of the HS2 line and the entire project to be taken forward in one piece of legislation, as Labour has consistently demanded. The delay of up to 18months now would not cause any delay to the actual start of work on the project or its final delivery date.
Creating a major new transport hub to the West of London at Heathrow, rather than several miles away at a site with inadequate other transport connections, and mirroring the hub in the East at Stratford, is the joined up thinking that is too often lacking in our transport planning.
So, while we will do nothing to put at risk or delay this vital project, I am today urging the new Secretary of State to agree to revise the plans for connecting to Heathrow so that we get this right for the long term.