High Speed Two non-executive chairman Sir Brian Briscoe this week stressed that the new £32bn rail network was crucial to providing the intercity rail capacity which will underpin economic growth.
Engaging public “vital”
But Briscoe also accepted that properly engaging the public in the discussion was vital.
He spoke to NCE as public consultation roadshow events on proposals for the £32bn rail network kicked off this week along the controversial Chilterns section of the route.
“This is not a propaganda exercise. We understand why people have got anxieties about the project,” explained Briscoe. He pointed out that he expected strong local objections as the consultations moved through the Chilterns region.
“We think that the route is as good as we can get it at this stage but we appreciate that we are going to see people who know their ground better than we would ever do. They are entitled to put their perspective forward.”
Eight consultation events were held at the London end of the proposed route in April before being suspended during the local elections.
They resumed on Monday in Chalfont St Giles, and another 30 events will be held across Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Solihull and Birmingham throughout May and June.
The consultation document’s seven questions have already attracted thousands of responses. Briscoe said he was prepared for many more to surface ahead of the July deadline.
Briscoe said the project would underpin the future intercity rail capacity in the UK and that any delay to the current challenging programme risked harming the nation’s economy.
“It is a false belief that delaying it will make it better”
Sir Brian Briscoe
“It is a false belief that delaying it will make it better,” he says. “What makes it best is a really good quality consultation where people are listened to and changes are made in response.
But we must keep the programme going so that properties are not blighted by the uncertainty.”
Briscoe said that the project timetable remained challenging. The hope is to be able to present a Hybrid Bill into the House of Commons in October 2013 and achieve Royal Assent for the project before the 2015 General Election. This would enable construction to start in 2017 and so the first section of the line between London and Birmingham can open by 2026.
Briscoe said he was very keen to hear the views of local people and of engineering professionals but, while accepting that getting the route alignment right was critical, he urged the focus to remain on the macro transport issue.
“How else can we move sufficient people between big cities in future in decent comfort in order to underpin the economic growth of the country,” he asked. “If (objectors) can come up with a better way of doing it I would be very surprised.”
- Full interview with Sir Brian Briscoe next week