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16.10.18

HS2 Phase 2 boss defends 12-month bill delay: ‘We actually proposed this ourselves’

The outgoing boss of HS2 Phase 2b has defended the one-year setback in introducing legislation to Parliament, arguing that the move was “essential” to ensure the benefits of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) play a role in the final bill.

Speaking exclusively to RTM, Paul Griffiths, who announced he would be moving to Canada just a day after it was revealed that the HS2 Phase 2b bill would be delayed by 12 months, argued that moving the deposit date was “actually something we proposed as HS2.”

“Talking to our colleagues at the DfT and talking to the NPR projects review group when we went to see them in April, we think it’s essential,” he told RTM in between speaker sessions at TransCityRail.

“Bearing in mind the amount of change that we’re still absorbing into Phase 2b, we felt it made far more sense to actually build those principles rather than to deposit a bill and then have to change lots of it as we see what comes out of, for example, the strategic outline business case for NPR.

When news of the bill delay surfaced in September, a spokesperson for the DfT claimed the setback would actually help maximise the “huge potential of HS2” by taking full account of NPR’s emerging vision.

But many were less than pleased, with Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Transport Select Committee, calling it a “poor start to the new parliamentary year for the transport secretary,” asking for greater transparency around why the decision was made, and stating that it “raises further doubts over the government’s commitment and willingness to invest in the Midlands and the north.”

“Ultimately, this project was meant to be the ‘great economic conduit’ for the North and part of the plans to rebalance economic growth in this country,” she said. “Without HS2 Phase 2b, the potential transformation to connectivity across the Midlands and to the great cities of the North and Scotland will be lost.”

The government did, however, confirm that the opening date for Phase 2b would remain intact despite the legislative delay.

When asked by RTM why the delay was announced at such a late stage – considering NPR’s business case, due this year, has been in development for a while – Griffiths said: “I suppose the issue is that we started working on NPR with them [TfN] in 2016, and two years feels like quite a long time, but in terms of development of these schemes it’s a very short period of time.

“If you think back to when HS2 got Phase 1 approved, it took seven or eight years. Crossrail has taken over 15 years to get from project inception through to where we are now. Two years is really a very, very short period of time to develop something of the scale of NPR. TfN has done a fantastic job with pulling that together from first principle.”

He also guaranteed that the delay will ensure NPR forms a key part of HS2, which is something that the leaders across the industry have been campaigning for. “It’s making the best use of the HS2 asset so that that can be used wherever possible to support NPR,” Griffiths explained.

“We’ll begin looking at things like having a dual station at Piccadilly – that’s part of it. But also looking at what parts of the infrastructure we’re building anyway – from Manchester Airport to Piccadilly – could be used to help link to Liverpool, which could be a real win. It’s really important for us to do that; it’s getting best value for the taxpayer.”

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