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Heathrow and HS2 in firing line of many prime minister front runners

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Theresa May is going. And while Brexit will no doubt be the decisive issue in the Conservative leadership race, two of Britain’s biggest infrastructure projects could also be on their way out depending on who eventually walks into Number 10. 

There are now 11 horses in the Tory leadership race and each of them takes a slightly different stance on High Speed 2 (HS2) and Heathrow expansion. Whether either project follows May out the door remains to be seen, but several Prime Minister hopefuls have previously called for one, if not both, schemes to be scrapped. 

Does Boris Johnson spell the end of Heathrow expansion plans? Would the election of Dominic Raab or Michael Gove mean HS2 is paused? Whichever way the leadership race runs, the infrastructure sector waits with baited breath. 

Tory leadership hopefuls’ infrastructure stance:

Boris Johnson – 6/4 (Odds via Skybet)

At present, Johnson is the favourite to succeed Theresa May. The former foreign secretary has never voted on new high speed rail infrastructure, but he has stated that HS2 should be scrapped and that the government should focus on building a new TransPennine high-speed line instead.

Despite his previous vocal opposition to Heathrow expansion, the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip abstained on the key parliamentary vote concerning the subject. However, it should be noted that after being elected as an MP in 2015, he told supporters: “I will lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway.”

In addition, in 2018, then foreign secretary Johnson proposed a bridge linking Scotland and Ireland, as well as a 54km bridge over the English Channel to link the United Kingdom to mainland Europe. Johnson estimated the combined cost of the projects to be £34bn.

Johnson was also a huge supporter of the now scrapped Garden Bridge scheme. In total, the Garden Bridge Trust – which was fully responsible for the construction and management of the project – spent £53M on the project which was never granted planning permission. But, in early 2018 the ex-mayor of London claimed the Garden Bridge would have been “adorning the river now” if he were still mayor.

As an alternative to Heathrow expansion, Johnson had proposed the construction of a new inner Thames estuary airport, but the Airports Commission decided in 2014 not to add it to its shortlist of options for providing new airport capacity by 2030.

Dominic Raab – 9/2

When asked about HS2 by BBC presenter Andrew Marr earlier this year, Raab responded: “I would want to review it to make sure we got full value for money and that its benefits are really seen in the North.”

However, his stance on Heathrow is less ambiguous. Following his vote for expansion, he said: “I voted in favour for local and national reasons. I support the expansion of Heathrow in principle, due to the economic benefits a third runway will bring – especially as Britain looks to forge a stronger global trading role.

He added : “The new runway will create new international routes, more than 100,000 new jobs (three-quarters of which will be in London and the South East), doubled freight capacity and benefits of up to £74bn to passengers and the wider economy over 60 years. The government has made clear this will be delivered at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Michael Gove – 11/2

Despite casting votes in favour of both phases of HS2, his commitment to the project is uncertain. According to Sunday Times journalist Tim Shipman, Gove privately floated the idea scrapping HS2 and spending the money saved “on local transport links in the Midlands and the North” to a group of MPs in June last year.

The current environment secretary also voted in favour of Heathrow expansion, arguing a week later that expansion was crucial to “ensuring the UK maintains its position as a global leader in aviation”.

He added: “The National Policy Statement takes into account public and industry feedback and recommendations made by the [Commons] transport committee to ensure that airport expansion in the south east will be delivered in a way that is cost-efficient, sustainable and in passengers’ best interests.”

Andrea Leadsom – 8-1

Leadsom voted in favour of Heathrow expansion, but she has been a longstanding critic of HS2. At the start of the 2016 Tory leadership race, which Theresa May eventually won, the campaign group ‘Stop HS2’ even said that of the declared candidates Leadsom had “the strongest Stop HS2 credentials”.

Jeremy Hunt – 14-1

The foreign secretary has consistently been supportive of HS2 and has before claimed that it demonstrates “success in business” and can lay down the mantle for “High Speed 3 and High Speed 4”.

Earlier this year, the MP for South West Surrey also called HS2 “absolutely vital”, arguing that it signalled post-Brexit ambition. He added: “What signal would it send if we cancelled our highest profile infrastructure project and weakened our commitment to share prosperity around the country?”

Hunt also voted in favour of the third runway at Heathrow Airport. Justifying his vote for the National Policy Statement, he argued: “Heathrow expansion will deliver a boost of up to £74bn to the economy and ensure the UK maintains its position as a global leader in aviation.

”This will be the first full length runway in the South-East since the Second World War, which sends a very clear message that this country is open for business.”

Rory Stewart – 16-1

Stewart voted in favour of a High Speed Rail link between London and the West Midlands and supports construction on the second phase of the HS2 rail network.

As well as voting in favour of Heathrow expansion last year, he was among a Conservative group of MPs that in 2012 argued for at least one new runway to be built at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted in the next 10 years. Andrea Leadsom was also part of that group.

Sajid Javid – 25-1

Javid is an advocate of the HS2 project and in late 2018 defended the scheme in response to Boris Johnson’s calls for it to be scrapped in favour of a new east-west line across the Pennines.

Javid told the Birmingham Mail: “Boris is not a member of the government. The government is absolutely behind HS2. A huge amount of effort and investment has already gone into that.”

Prior to voting for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow, Javid was also a vocal supporter of the proposal. In July 2016, he said: “We should quickly give the green light to a third runway at Heathrow.”.

Javid in 2017 also called on the government to borrow more money to invest in infrastructure “that leads to more housing” and to do so by “[taking] advantage of some of the record low interest rates that we have.”

James Cleverly – 25-1

The Brexit minister became the 11th Conservative MP to enter the race to replace Theresa May as prime minister. He voted in favour of building a third runway at Heathrow and is dedicated to the HS2 project. Just this month he insisted that the Conservative party should fulfil its promise to deliver on HS2.

Mathew Hancock – 40-1

Matthew Hancock voted for the construction of the HS2 rail link from London to Birmingham in 2016 and is in favour of building the second phase of the HS2 rail network. He also voted in favour of Heathrow expansion.

Ester McVey – 66-1

The Tatton MP voted in favour of a third runway at Heathrow, but is a big opponent of HS2. She has before stated that she opposes the high speed rail project on the grounds that “the economic case has not been made”.

Last month, she said: “As each day passes, the case for HS2 gets weaker.” She added: “What the vast majority of the public want is a fast rail link connecting all the cities across the north of England as well as better local transport, not a vanity project whose cost keeps increasing.

”Furthermore local residents are concerned that the geographical complexities of Cheshire in terms of cost, design and safety have not fully been taken account of.”

McVey has already vowed to scrap HS2 in her bid to advance “blue collar conservatism”, if she becomes leader of the Conservatives.

Kit Malthouse – 66-1

Malthouse favours of pushing on with both phases of HS2, but in 2014 he did concede that the project was “possibly faltering as a scheme in terms of both political support but also practicalities when the bill seems to be going up and up”. He also voted in favour of Heathrow expansion.

Meanwhile, at the 2019 Local Government Association Planning, Housing and Infrastructure Conference earlier this year, Malthouse vowed “no part of the country, in theory, will be untouched by construction”.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Once again politics is likely to get in the way of delivering much needed transport infrastructure, efficiently and economically. It is no surprise that costs escalate as governments change and each has to stamp its own mark on the industry. Politicians come and go on a regular basis leaving the professionals who have committed their working life to the industry, to pick up the pieces and take the blame for late delivery and spiraling costs. Do other similar countries to whom we are continually compared suffer the same frustrations. Certainly I am sure France does not despite there political comings and goings.

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  • The viability of HS2 has again raised its head and those affected locally (to me) expected a substantive announcement in May, only to be disappointed. If the leadership of the Conservative party goes the way it is expected to go then the whole project could be subject to total cancellation. Over two years ago I suggested a much cheaper option (if capacity is the main objective) - that of developing a dedicated freight-only network which could be built at a fraction of the cost and which could form the basis of a new green strategy for the movement of goods across the UK.

    However, if the current concentration is on value-for-money then I suspect that aspects of the project will, very quickly, unravel. The three main options are:

    continue as planned
    total cancellation
    proceed with a truncated project based on revised benefit/cost analysis

    Of these the third would provide a possible compromise, avoiding the embarrassment of total cancellation.

    Firstly, the design speed has been the subject of much discussion and there is no doubt that a reduction from 250mph to 200mph would not greatly affect journey times. Secondly there are savings to be made if the length of the trains is amended from the current 400 meters to a more sensible 200 meters. The 400m figure is an EU requirement and partially based on the distance between the escape routes in Channel Tunnel. Since we are leaving the EU and the route is no longer connected to the Continent, this requirement is redundant. Can we develop a new 200/200 hybrid train which will enable connections between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Holyhead and Glasgow?

    Thirdly, only the London to Crewe spine provides a positive benefit/cost justification. The expensive spur running into central Birmingham, along with the new Curzon Street Station, can never be justified as a stand-alone project and could, therefore be removed from Phase 1 in order to save costs without affecting the main project. In any case, most of those willing to pay the premium ticket cost that the new route will need to charge will, by preference, use the Birmingham Interchange Station. Proposals are already in hand to connect Birmingham International to the City Centre by tram and it would cost relatively little to extend the tram line to the Interchange Station.

    The fate of Phase 2 would then be in the hands of future politicians and would be unaffected by anything above.

    Peter Styles [peter_styles@msn.com]

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