GIVEN THAT HS2 is Britain’s largest – and most expensive – infrastructure project, the challenges were always going to be formidable and its tests are three-fold.
It remains a test of this country’s ambition. It’s a test of skills policy to ensure this country is producing engineers of the right calibre. And it’s a test of political will to see if rival political parties can plan for the long-term.
Yet, as controversies deepen and Boris Johnson becomes a HS2 sceptic as part of his Tory leadership pitch, some perspective is required following the latest policy update. High-speed rail bosses need to acknowledge the simmering disquiet over the railways – Transport Secretary Chris Grayling does not command any public confidence – and start to explain how this £56bn railway will, in fact, free up capacity on existing lines.
And while much of the national focus has been on North-South links, one of the scheme’s defining tests here is the interchange at Leeds with the new trans-Pennine line being planned. Not only is this key to the regeneration of Leeds city centre, and creation of new jobs, but it means this county will be home to a national transport hub of international repute.
As such, it is reassuring to hear from Tom Kelly, HS2’s director of stakeholder engagement, that this very much remains the plan and that this link explains, in part, delays to the tabling of legislation. However, with trust in transport ministers and rail operators at an all-time low, his organisation can’t afford to take public support for granted – especially at a time when there are politicians, like Mr Johnson, looking to exploit every available opportunity for their own ends.