High Speed 2 (HS2), the biggest infrastructure project in the United Kingdom, a planned high speed rail network, aims to transform public transport between London, Midlands and the North. It was initiated by the Labour government in 2009 with an original budget of, considering the 2009 prices, £37.5 billion but the project has become an epitome of delays, disruptions, goal postings, disappointments and resulting budget increase.
In his recent statement, while commenting on the High Speed 2, Secretary of State for Transport: Mark Harper said that the challenging economic headwinds have forced the government to impose major delays of two or more years on several major projects. The affected include: HS2, The lower Thames Crossing, the A27 Arundel Bypass and the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Road. He blamed the delay on recent international socio-economic events. In his words: “Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and supply chain disruption as the global economy recovers from the pandemic which have made the project delivery difficult”. This resulted in the government taking some tough decision regarding the project capability of being completed within the original time frame.
Furthermore, a statement from the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed that the High Speed 2 Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe would be delayed by 2 years. It also pushed back the completion date from 2029-2033 to 2040-2045 of HS2 services to run from the London terminus at Euston. So, now it could be 2040s before the passenger can avail the services of HS2 operating on a full scale.
Mr. Harper asserted that at the moment the government is focussing on HS2 initial services between Old Oak Common in London and Birmingham Curzon Street, and it continues to take the High-Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill through the Parliament. He further added that the government is committed to deliver the HS2 services to Euston and will address the affordability pressure so that the overall budget remains manageable.
Lord McLoughlin, Transport for the North Chair, was disappointed with the announcement and was of the view that the government should avoid the penny wise and pound-foolish approach as the delays do not necessarily leads to achieving the same desired outcome and conditional outputs. The leaders of the Rail industry censured these recent announcements and described these delays as “false economy” and “real body blow for the UK’s economic recovery”.
The delay postpones the project’s enormous benefits for the country, including enhanced capacity, increased economic growth, improved connectivity (which promotes levelling up), and hundreds of thousands of jobs, particularly in the Midlands and the North, as well as to other regions of the UK. Johnathan Spruce, trustee for policy and external affairs at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) while commenting on the delay stated that these Public infrastructure projects like HS2 are critical for economic growth, and meeting levelling up and net zero goals. They are an investment in our future, not a cost. Also, the UK needs to think strategically about what it wants its transport system to deliver.
In a nutshell, the government seems to be taking some harsh decisions that exhibit its commitment for the project, but all these delays and disruptions result in additional costs which gives rise to a question that is looming on this project as the Sword of Damocles: will HS2 ever be completed?
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