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High Speed 2 shows UK is serious on infrastructure

It is always good to start the week with some mass media infrastructure coverage. Publication of the High Speed 2 (HS2) phase 2 route didn’t fail to deliver.

It is, of course, clear why HS2 attracts headlines. Despite its almost unique cross party political support, any new piece of infrastructure on this scale is bound to attract opposition as it makes its way north through constituencies fromBirmingham.

You have only got to read the pages of NCE to understand that there is strong feeling over the validity of HS2 and whether £33bn would be better spent elsewhere.

“It is now time for the industry to pick up the baton. HS2 may seem a long way off but in reality there is a lot to do”

Which is why it is so good to hear the arguments now moving beyond simply how much time can be saved. At last we are talking about the impact that a project of this scale can have on the national economy.

As prime minister David Cameron explained, a new high speed rail network is “vital for Britain if we are going to compete in the global race”. He added: “These are difficult economic times - precisely the time that we should be planning for the future.”

Just words of course and frankly, words that have been quite some time coming. But they are welcome words - not least given that only last week this column highlighted the shocking dearth of coalition infrastructure policies and the private sector concern over clarity around the government’s plans.

Now we see that even George Osborne supports investment - despite HS2 passing through his own Tatton constituency.

So it is now time for the industry to pick up the baton. It may seem a long way off, with phase 1 construction planned to start in 2017 and a phase 2 start expected four years later, but in reality there is a lot to do.

And, as everyone in construction understands, the right decisions made now will reap huge benefit later.

It was a point made well by HS2 director Roy Hill at an NCE round table discussion meeting last week - the outcome from which will feature in NCE next week.

Successfully delivering this complex new railway project on time, below budget and to the highest quality can only be achieved, he said, if we start now and involve the whole industry. On this scale, success will come from sharing innovative ideas, finding better solutions and working together.

The industry has, of course, done it before, most recently and most obviously for the London 2012 Olympic Games - and by the way, this week’s decision allowing firms to promote their Olympic success is welcome.

Crucially, however, the unequivocal political support for HS2 is an important step in the long process of building global confidence in the UK’s attitude to investment.

For all the local arguments - and they are an important part of our democracy - right now the UK needs to show it is serious about long term investment. HS2 does that. We need to play our part by delivering.

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