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Lords report: case for HS2 ‘not proven’

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The government has failed to demonstrate a ‘convincing case’ for the investment of £50bn in a new high-speed rail network, according to a House of Lords report

The upper house’s Economic Affairs Select Committee said it was in favour of infrastructure investment in principle, but that the government had not so far proved that HS2 was necessary to boost rail capacity and rebalance the nation’s economy between London and the regions.

Its report, The Economics of High Speed Two, says the government has not looked hard enough at other ways to boost capacity on existing routes as alternatives to building a new line linking London and Birmingham, with additional spurs to Manchester and Leeds.

The report estimates the cost of the project is up to nine times higher than the construction of France’s high speed network, and that cost-saving lessons should be learned from across the Channel.

It suggests that among those measures should be building HS2 to run at 200mph rather than 250mph, and terminating the line at Old Oak Common in west London, rather than at Euston.

Committee chair Lord Hollick said the enabling legislation for the line, which is currently progressing through parliament, should not be cleared until ministers had answered more detailed questions about the benefits of the line.

He said: ‘At £50billion, HS2 will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK, but the government have not yet made a convincing case for why it is necessary.’

‘The government are basing the justification for HS2 on two factors – increased rail capacity and rebalancing the UK economy; we have not seen the evidence that it is the best way to deliver either.

‘Overcrowding on the West Coast main line is largely a problem on commuter trains and on long-distance trains immediately after peak time on Friday evenings and at some weekends. The government have not carried out a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity are more cost effective than HS2.

‘In terms of rebalancing, London is likely to be the main beneficiary from HS2. Investment in improving rail links in the North of England might deliver much greater economic benefit at a fraction of the cost of HS2.’

The full report and questions for ministers can be read here.

Its publicatrion follows news earlier this week that dRMM co-founder Sadie Morgan has been picked to lead a design review panel for HS2, concentrating on its first phase from London to Birmingham.

Previous story (AJ 23.03.15)

Sadie Morgan heads up new HS2 design review panel

The co-founder of dRMM, Sadie Morgan, has been appointed to lead a panel overseeing all the design on the HS2 rail link

Morgan will head up the independent group which will look into every design aspect of the £42.6 billion infrastructure project between London and Birmingham.

Speaking about her appointment, a ‘delighted’ Morgan said: ‘From website to way finding, ticketing to trains – the remit of the design panel will be all encompassing.

‘As the single biggest infrastructure project the UK has ever undertaken, HS2 will touch the lives of millions of people.

‘Great design is integral to making sure that HS2 achieves its full potential, from the beginning to the end of the journey. This includes not only landscape and station design but the entire passenger experience.

She added: ‘We’ll deliver a project that everyone can be proud of, that speaks a national language yet respects regional dialects. Outstanding design will ensure a step-change in railway travel for this century and beyond.’

Commenting on Morgan’s appointment, HS2 chief executive, Simon Kirby, said: ‘I am extremely pleased that Sadie has joined HS2 to chair its Design Panel. As a founding director of her own architecture practice she clearly has the drive required to help us deliver HS2 as a world class high speed rail system.

‘Great design will help enable HS2 to deliver the step change in rail travel in Britain, making it a transport mode of choice and draw people to train travel who do not currently consider it.’

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, added: ‘Great design is essential to HS2. This vital railway is a key part of our long-term economic plan. We want HS2 to make the country proud and show the world what great British design can do.’

Morgan’s appointment comes as HS2 revealed its Design Vision – a framework which will guide the design of the scheme.

The document was drawn up as a result of the work begun last July by the group of designers who were brought in to shape the design of the vision for the high speed rail link (AJ 03.06.14)

Led by ex-Design Council chair David Kester, the 32-strong group, which included Garden Bridge designer Thomas Heatherwick, Stirling Prize-winner Alison Brooks and engineer Jane Wernick, was tasked with developing design concepts for all aspects of the £42.6 billion project including future stations, trains, and landscaping.

Focused around three main points – people, place and time - the framework aims ‘to hold [HS2] to account with memorable criteria’.  

According to the Design Vision document ‘every design task is critical’ and the work would need to be ‘transformational’.

Last month, Jane Priestman, who had previously worked at the British Railways Board, said HS2 was a ‘tremendous opportunity’ but it was yet to be proven (AJ 27.02.15).

Key points from HS2’s Design Vision

  1. Design for the needs of a diverse audience
  2. Engage with communities over the life of the project
  3. Inspire through creative talent
  4. Design places and spaces that support quality of life
  5. Celebrate local places within a national narrative
  6. Demonstrate a commitment to nature
  7. Design to adapt for future generations
  8. Place a premium on customer’s personal time
  9. Make the most of design time
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