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Plans to fast-track HS2 construction revealed

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Construction of the northern section of the HS2 line must be sped up to allow both phases of the project to be completed six years early, HS2 chairman David Higgins has announced

Higgins, who took over as HS2 chairman in January, called for ministers to start work on the project’s northern links to Manchester and Leeds as soon as possible and insisted both phases should be completed by 2027, six years earlier than planned, AJ sister title Construction News has reported.

The news will be welcomed by the likes of RIBA President Stephen Hodder who fears that delays and uncertainty over the future phases could lead to planning blight around the proposed terminuses outside the capital (RIBA president Hodder warns of HS2 planning blight in Manchester).

Under current plans, work on phase one of HS2, between London and Birmingham, is scheduled to start in 2017 and will open in 2026.

However work on phase two, split into an eastern and western leg to Manchester and Leeds, is not scheduled to open until 2032 or 2033.

According to Higgins’ new proposals, the first phase would be extended by 43 miles further north than originally planned, to a new transport hub in Crewe.

Higgins said the £21.4 billion allocated for phase one, with £3 billion for trains (including contingency) was enough to deliver the project.

He said he has ‘resisted temptation’ to reduce the large contingency contained in the budget due to uncertainty around the projects legislative timetable and added that the same approach should be taken for the second phase of the project.

A hybrid bill for the first phase of the project, which would secure powers to build and maintain the project, is currently making its way through parliament.

However he suggested scrapping the proposed link between HS2 and HS1, which he said was ‘sub-optimal’ and called for a revamp of Euston station, HS2’s London hub, which would involve the private sector building the station from property development funding.

Higgins questioned whether the station was ambitious enough and highlighted developments at St Pancras and King’s Cross as successful regeneration projects.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin admitted this month that the hybrid bill will not pass through parliament until after the next election in 2015.

The chairman was tasked with reporting on how to reduce the pricetag for £42.6 billion project, with an additional £7 billion estimated for the trains, in November, after concerns were raised that the project’s budget was spiralling out of control.

At the time shadow chancellor Ed Balls said a Labour Party would not write a ‘blank cheque’ for HS2.

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