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High Speed 2: Bigger, faster and better for Britain

There is no doubt that 2013 promises to be one of the most significant years yet for the UK’s high speed rail ambitions, says Doug Oakervee

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Grand design: Phase One of High Speed 2 will see 225km of track built between London and Birmingham

The HS2 network we are developing will bring our biggest cities closer together, drive regeneration around the new stations, tackle overcrowding on the railways, create thousands of jobs and help to stimulate economic growth.

But there is a great deal of work to be done by the planned start of construction in 2017 and for the first passenger trains to run between London and the West Midlands in 2026.

Before that legislation has to get through Parliament, in the form of a hybrid Bill that provides the necessary powers from MPs to construct and operate the line.

Since HS2 Ltd was set up in 2009 it has been working to deliver both the Labour and coalition governments’ vision of a network that will be the backbone of a new transport system for the 21st century.

After a public consultation on the first phase of the route in 2011, the then secretary of state for transport, Justine Greening gave the green light in January this year for the required work to be done for the hybrid Bill. As a result the essential design, engineering and environmental assessments that are needed got underway and are continuing.

This is happening in conjunction with a public engagement programme where HS2 Ltd stakeholder teams convene bi-monthly meetings with local communities all along the 225km of Phase One of the planned line. These community forums are an opportunity to discuss emerging information and thinking about the project’s development with the people that will be directly affected. There are also regular planning and environmental forums with local authorities and non governmental organisations.

Our work continues apace and in my view there are three key milestones for HS2 in 2013.

First, the environmental impacts of Phase One and the measures that can be taken to minimise them will be published next year. We are currently carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment that will feed into an Environmental Statement. This statement in draft form is due for publication and public consultation in the spring before the final version is deposited in Parliament along with the hybrid Bill.

Secondly, the government plans to deposit the bill before the end of 2013. This will set out the land requirements for the London to West Midlands route and, as stated above, provide the necessary legal powers to build and operate the line. With the cross-party support that the project has, we anticipate the granting of Royal Assent for the Bill in 2015.

Thirdly, as the chancellor George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement on 5 December, the transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin will set out in the new year plans to take HS2 to the North West and West Yorkshire.

This second phase will make HS2 a genuinely national network benefiting the whole country. While the high speed lines will run from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, the new trains will be designed to continue onto the current network, providing direct services to Newcastle, Liverpool and Glasgow.

And by moving a significant proportion of our current inter-city services from the existing railway onto new HS2 lines, there will be space for additional commuter, regional and freight services, benefiting passengers across the whole country.

So there is a great deal to do in 2013. As well as the work programme I have just set out, we will continue to make the wider case for HS2 with vigour and promote the significant national benefits it will bring. It is an investment for the future that our industry and the country needs.

Doug Oakervee is chairman, HS2 Ltd

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