HS2 will go ahead – and it could eventually come to be seen as a thing of beauty, says Justine Greening in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.
The Transport Secretary said that despite opposition from Conservative supporters, the £32 billion scheme is progressing “full steam ahead”. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Miss Greening compared the huge project to the “iconic” works of the great Victorian engineers, which were controversial at the time but are now regarded with affection and admiration.
HS2 is intended to see trains travelling at 225mph between London and Birmingham by 2026, cutting the journey time to 49 minutes. A second phase, to be complete by 2033, would see HS2 proceeding on a Y-shaped route to take in Leeds and Manchester. Advocates say the scheme will reduce domestic air travel and create jobs and prosperity in the Midlands and northern England. Opponents say the scheme is a multibillion pound white elephant. Some of the critics of HS2 have also argued that it will despoil some of the most beautiful parts of the English countryside. The chosen route for the line will pass through rural areas including the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Department for Transport has already announced extensive work including tunnels, cuttings, sidings and screens of trees to minimise the visual impact of the line.
Miss Greening conceded that the line will have “an impact” but promised the very best design possible for the project, to make it as attractive as possible. “I want to do the very best job I can on making sure that when we look back on it people will feel we got the other elements that matter right, especially how it looks and this legacy that it leaves,” she said. In the decades ahead, the minister suggested, today’s controversy over the line could eventually be replaced with appreciation.
“If you look back to some of those big railway projects that were built by the Victorians, there were people there who were sceptical about the benefits,” she said. “I think the Victorians did show the way: they did a lot of investment in infrastructure but a lot of the things they left behind people think are things of beauty.” People could one day come to see HS2 in the same way, she suggested. “What we should be aiming for is to have a level of quality of design that in decades to come people will look back on and think you know what, they built a railway but it was so much more than that.”
Recent reports have suggested that David Cameron and George Osborne are cooling in their support for HS2. Miss Greening, a close ally of the Chancellor, insisted that both the Treasury and No 10 are still entirely committed to the project. “We are full steam ahead and there is no wavering in our determination to get on with High Speed 2,” she said. “The Chancellor is four-square behind it and the Prime Minister is. George Osborne more than any other Chancellor in recent years has shown a real understanding of the importance in investing in infrastructure.”
There was no legislation for HS2 in this year’s Queen’s Speech, leading to speculation that the project could be shelved Miss Greening said that the timetable for the line means legislation does not need to be published until next year. “We remain absolutely on track to deliver our hybrid bill as part of the Queen’s Speech next year which was always part of the plan,” she said.