A BUSINESS expert claims financial criticisms of the HS2 highspeed rail link’s costs do not address phase two of the project which is hoped to benefit the East Midlands.
Responding to a critical report by the National Audit Office of the Government’s plans for a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham (HS2 phase one), Ian Greenaway, President of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce said: “The report looks only at viability of HS2 phase one, London to Birmingham, it doesn’t address phase two to Leeds and Manchester, which will affect the East Midlands.
“The NAO claims to have found a £3.3bn funding shortfall. The Government claims the NAO is using old data. We’re talking about a project not due to be delivered for 20 years or more so there will be significant changes to budgets and investment over that period.
“The report says that the Government’s link between shorter journey times and improved regional economic benefit is “unclear” but there can be no argument that it will create jobs in the region during and post-construction, the only question is how many.
“Derby has the biggest cluster of rail-related industries in Europe and not going ahead with the project will deny these firms even the chance to bid for work that could secure their futures.
“There have been many instances of projects which were deemed ‘doubtful’, such as the M25, the Channel Tunnel, the Jubilee Line Extension and widening the M1, none of which we would now want to be without.
“As for the tight timetable for construction, you should always set targets and strive to meet them, but if you’re sensible you build in a little leeway.
“No assessment has yet been done for the viability of phase two but that doesn’t mean it won’t be viable. And even if phase one is not independently viable it may become so when the two parts of phase two are completed.
“We would argue that today’s criticisms by the NAO actually strengthen the case for bringing phase two forward - it can’t be a stop-start process as unnecessary delays will threaten the overall economic benefit of the project.
“The UK’s rail network is already lagging a long way behind the rest of Europe and it won’t be long before, capacity-wise, the network simply will not be able to cope with demand.
“This has always been a controversial project, but just because it’s controversial, doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. Doing nothing is not an option – we need to do something big and radical. In business you have to speculate to accumulate, identify risks and manage them.
“Future generations wouldn’t thank us for a lack of strategic vision today.”