Michael Lunn, Head of Public Affairs at ACE, on the clues we can glean from the Prime Minister’s statement on HS2.
n a speech loaded with references to the infrastructure achievements of the Victorians and the heavily previewed announcement on HS2, there were also plenty of clues as to future Government policy on how infrastructure can unlock regional productivity while putting the country on a path to a Net Zero society.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he didn’t want to “steal the Chancellor’s thunder”, but he did just that announcing a slew of new investments for bikes, buses, and roads, as well as confirming investments in a number of railway projects. The theme here was regional connectivity and, along with previous announcements on broadband, it paints a picture of a Government looking to unlock productivity at a local level.
On buses, he announced a £5bn investment over five years which would translate into 4,000 “zero carbon British built” buses to increase the frequency of services, turning many more into a turn up and go service. In addition, he announced that 250 miles of segregated bike lanes would create hundreds of “mini-Hollands” across the country.
He announced a number of road improvements – Cornwall, the A1, Salisbury, Cheadle and many more with a hint that the Chancellor would provide more details.
On rail he confirmed investment for the reopening of the Fleetwood line in Lancashire and Ashington to Blyth in the North East with further improvements at stations in Middlesbrough and Harrogate, as well as at Bristol East Junction.
Which brings us nicely to the main course of HS2. Acknowledging the poor management to date, the Prime Minister highlighted that this did not detract from the arguments for high speed rail, notably the hundreds of thousands of extra seats, faster journeys, and not only linking Midlands to London but to the Northern Powerhouse too.
He also announced new arrangements for the management of the project.
At a political level a minister will be responsible for the project and there will be a ministerial oversight group.
At a operational level the project will see Phase 1 and 2a bunched together (London to Crewe) with new arrangements put in place for Phase 2B which will become known as High Speed North and integrated into Northern Powerhouse Rail project.
On that, the Prime Minister was adamant that it is not an either/or question as far as Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 are concerned: “Both are needed and both will be built as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”
With a loosening of Governmental purse strings, a focus on the Midlands and the North and the acknowledgment that infrastructure is crucial to this, the next few weeks and months will be interesting for ACE members. We will, of course, continue to dialogue with Ministers and officials at HM Treasury and BEIS to promote members’ interests and we will continue to do so all the way to the upcoming Budget on 11 March.
We expect to see more detail on the above announcements in the form of a complementary Transport Infrastructure Strategy. Only then will we be able to judge whether it is indeed a “revolution in this nation’s public transport provision.”