HS2 North-South rail line

This blog provides updates on the High Speed Two (HS2) rail network - an engine for economic growth providing vital infrastructure for Britain's railways including new capacity, better connectivity and helping rebalance the economy through investment and regeneration.

May 30

HS2 Ltd interview with Countryfile

Peter Miller is HS2 Ltd’s Head of Environment. He was interviewed for the edition of Countryfile to be broadcast on Sunday 1 June at 7pm.

I travelled from London to Stoke Mandeville recently to record an interview with BBC Countryfile presenter Tom Heap. He was interested to learn more about the work I and my team at HS2 Ltd are doing to minimise the impact of Britain’s new north-south high speed rail network. 

I explained to Tom that, despite what some people may think, we care very much about the environment. I lead a dedicated team that is working hard to protect both the rural and urban areas that the line will pass through.

HS2 will bring enormous benefits for the country by freeing up much-needed space on our increasingly crowded railway, especially in the south-east. It will shorten journey times between our biggest cities in the north, the Midlands and between them and London. And it will boost the economy by supporting jobs, offer regeneration opportunities around the new stations and the construction will bring billions of pounds worth of supply chain contracts to UK businesses. But we still have to do all that we can to protect our precious natural habitats and woodlands, as well as reducing the disruption to those living along the planned route.

We set out our current plans for doing this in the 50,000 pages of the Environmental Statement (ES) that was submitted to Parliament along with the hybrid Bill – essentially the planning application to build the first phase of the new line between London and the West Midlands – in November last year. 

MPs overwhelmingly backed these plans when they voted on the second reading of the Bill at the end of April. With 452 voting in favour and only 41 against, the majority of 401 was among the highest for a House of Commons vote since the 2010 election.

The Countryfile programme that I was interviewed for is being broadcast from Buckinghamshire and Tom wanted to know what environmental protection measures will be put in place there. 

We are doing a lot; I wasn’t able to cover everything in my interview but I was able to explain our proposals for tunnelling under the Chilterns to help protect this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). We have extended the length of the tunnelling here in response to the original public consultation in 2011. The suggestion of a tunnel under the entire Chilterns AONB has been explored and given extensive consideration. But we have clearly set out in the ES how the current proposals provide the best balance between route engineering, cost and the desire to minimise environmental impacts.

image

I also talked Tom through how we can move soils from the ancient woodlands the line passes through to new sites and how we will plant over two million trees along the 140 miles of the first part of the network. I explained the extensive surveying we have done on the bat colonies that are present in this part of the countryside and the protection plans we have made for them.

We also discussed some of the points that the EAC raised in their report. There will be a formal Government response shortly but I ran through some of the areas I had spoken with the committee about during my evidence session - in particular, the aim of no net loss to biodiversity from the development of HS2. The EAC acknowledged that this is a very challenging objective but I certainly feel that it is one we will achieve and if we can see a net gain by working in partnership with others then that’s even better.

A lot of the environmental concerns on HS2 will now be addressed through the Bill petitioning process. The closing date for submitting petitions to Parliament was 23 May and there are just over 1,900 in total. This is lower than many expected and that is certainly down to the efforts of the HS2 Ltd staff who have been meeting with stakeholders in advance to understand any issues that might be raised.

A number of submissions did come from Buckinghamshire and many have asked for a tunnel to run all the way under the Chilterns. Others cited the impact on public rights of way, visual effects on the landscape and the potential disruption through noise and vibration. There were also worries about traffic management during construction.

Of course we understand these concerns. We will continue to work with the Bill committee and the petitioners to address them and find solutions. HS2 will bring enormous national benefits as I set our earlier but we have to be realistic that the building of such an important piece of infrastructure for the future will have some impact on the environment.  But I believe we are getting the right balance and have learned from the best practice of similar projects such as HS1 and Crossrail. Ultimately, we will deliver a 21st century transport system that will show the very best of British design, engineering and environmental protection.


Apr 17

The Residents’ Charter – our promise to you

Lisa Levy is HS2 Ltd’s Head of Engagement

Last week the government announced plans for a package of compensation for people living close to the first stage of HS2, from London to Birmingham.

This included a wide range of help for people in different circumstances, including payments for home owners opting to continue living next to the line and guarantees to buy the homes of those unable to sell as a result of the new line.

We did this because we recognise that, while HS2 will bring huge economic benefits for communities across the country, for those living closest to the line, some level of disruption will be inevitable.

That’s why it’s essential to have a fair and transparent compensation system which residents can have confidence in.

The next step will be the development of a Residents’ Charter, which will contain a number of principles against which we will be measured in our communications with people affected by the development of the railway.

We also intend to appoint an independent Residents’ Commissioner, who will ensure that we stick to the commitments made in the Charter.

They will ensure that residents are informed of any developments fairly and efficiently.

The Residents’ Charter – our promise to you

When appointed, the commissioner will report directly to HS2 Ltd’s chairman, Sir David Higgins, and will be asked to produce a monthly progress report for the HS2 Board.

The report will address how HS2 Ltd deals with communities and individuals who are affected by property issues and will be published on our website for all to see.

We plan to go above and beyond what was offered on previous major infrastructure projects. During the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and London’s new Crossrail line, commissioners were appointed to help resolve construction related complaints.

Our Residents’ Commissioner will go further, offering impartial mediation on all aspects of the property compensation scheme.

We understand that openness and transparency must be at the heart of everything we do. The Residents’ Charter will set out clearly what you can expect HS2 Ltd to do, as well as how we should act in dealing with anyone who is in a property that is potentially or definitely affected by the development of the railway.

The Charter will embrace the following key principles:

  • property compensation packages and other measures will be communicated clearly, in plain, non-technical language
  • residents will be offered a single named case officer
  • residents will be offered the opportunity to meet in private with HS2 property specialists
  • HS2 Ltd will commit to a reasonable response time for all property compensation-related enquiries

Together, the Charter and Commissioner will provide residents with a voice, impartial representation and – we hope - a very clear commitment to fast, fair and transparent compensation.

So there it is – our promise to you.

For further information please see New help for property owners affected by HS2.


Apr 4

Learning from consultation events

By Farahnaz Ashouri, Head of Consultations at HS2 Ltd.

HS2 Ltd held more than 100 consultation events in 2013, which easily makes it our busiest year so far. The set-up of each event varied, but in simple terms they were a chance for anyone with an interest in our project to walk into a community venue near to where they live and speak with members of our staff. We used interactive displays, sound booths, and sophisticated visualisations of what the HS2 route will look like to help people understand our consultation proposals, but it’s usually the chance to speak one-to-one with our team that people value the most.

100 consultation events in 2013
100 consultation events in 2013

Understandably, a lot of the people who come to our events are worried or confused about how HS2 might affect their lives, so it’s important that we listen fully, show sympathy and provide whatever information we can to help. Some visitors are upset and frustrated, but most appreciate that we’re trying to help them. Generally people have been appreciative of any certainty we have been able to give them. Even if the outcome is not what they hoped for it is easier to plan around what you know that what you don’t.

One of the good things about these events is that we’re giving people a chance to influence how HS2 is developed, by encouraging and helping them to submit a response to a consultation. People often tell us they don’t see the point in consultations, that nothing ever comes of them, but the reality is far different. Consultations are a really critical source of information for us and every single one we’ve carried out has led to improvements in our work that might not have happened if people hadn’t taken the time to fill in a response form. People might not realise it, but we invest a huge amount of time in reading consultation responses and deciding how we can use the information they contain.

Help people understand our consultation proposals
Help people understand our consultation proposals

Consultation events can be extremely hard work for our staff: long days of challenging discussions in unfamiliar places, but they can also be very rewarding in lots of unexpected ways. Meeting with the people who will eventually live alongside the railway gives us a real sense of responsibility, which we take back to the office and apply in our day jobs. The events are also a great lesson in how people with different backgrounds, skills and experiences can form a really effective team. People who work together at a consultation event might not have known each other before hand, but by the end of a long day working alongside each other we have a better understanding of the people and teams that will deliver HS2, and even greater confidence in our collective ability to deliver this important project.

Farahnaz has been in her role as Head of Consultations for 3 years.

View previous and forthcoming events.


Mar 28

Olympic dream for HS2

By Lord Deighton, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and Chair of the HS2 Growth Taskforce

When I first joined the London 2012 Olympics as Chief Executive of the Organising Committee, we faced a lot of scepticism. Could the venues be built on time? Would we be ready for the opening ceremony?

I travelled the journey from this scepticism to what I hope you will agree was a national triumph. The most powerful lesson I drew from the Olympics was the extraordinary capability we have in this country when we believe in something. When we focus on a clear set of objectives and go about delivering them collaboratively, with everyone working together, from across the private and public sectors, across the country and across political parties, we can achieve pretty much anything.

I assembled the HS2 Growth Taskforce to examine what we have to do as a country to bring that same focus on results and pride in delivery to the HS2 project. It is quite an unusual group, bringing together figures from across the political spectrum and the private and public sectors – from Sir John Rose, ex-CEO of Rolls Royce to Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC.

Last week the Taskforce published its final report. Our aim, quite simply, has been to lay out what needs to be done now to ensure we get every penny of value from HS2 for the UK. We travelled the country meeting people and witnessing first-hand the potential for growth and regeneration that exists in our towns and cities.

image

Lord Deighton, Alison Nimmo, Pete Waterman, Steven Norris

Our conclusion is that HS2 could be much more than a railway. It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity – particularly for our cities in the Midlands and the North – to deliver jobs and growth. However, this won’t be handed to us on a plate and it is up to all of us in the Government, local authorities, HS2 Ltd and UK businesses to make the most of this unique opportunity.

Our report comes hot on the heels of Sir David Higgins’ recommendations setting out how HS2 might be delivered sooner. Taken together they show quite clearly that HS2 is vital for the future prosperity of this country, but only if we do it right.

HS2 is set to be a real game-changer in Britain and I’m hugely grateful to my fellow Taskforce members for ensuring we kept to a high level of ambition. I’m also grateful to the many people we met around the country whose drive and passion shows that Britain has what it takes to get the best out of this project if we tackle it together.

In this country, we expect the Government to fully justify the value of major new projects. We are right to demand this, but once the debate has been had, there comes a time for action.

That time is now.


Mar 13

"The railways will do as much for mankind as the monasteries did"

By Lord Faulkner of Worcester, The Railway Heritage Association

In 1845 Disraeli wrote (in his novel Sybil) that “The railways will do as much for mankind as the monasteries did,” but even he could not have foreseen what an enormous impact they would have on Victoria’s Britain, and on civilisation across the globe. 

The great railway engineers and architects of the 19th century – Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Stephensons father and son, James Pritchett, Lewis Cubitt, John Crossley and scores of others – left their indelible mark on stations, bridges, tunnels and viaducts, the great majority still with us today, many of them amongst the country’s greatest architectural masterpieces.

image

Ouse Valley Viaduct

With the exception of the High Speed One line to the Channel Tunnel, no new mainline railway has been built in Britain for over 100 years.  Now this deficiency is going to be redressed, and we shall match the inventiveness and commitment of overseas railways – in countries as diverse as France and Japan, Germany and China, Italy and Taiwan – in building our own new high speed railway joining the north of England with the Midlands and the South.  It will be an opportunity for our very best railway architects, engineers and builders to demonstrate that they are as capable of enhancing the English landscape as much as their Victorian forefathers were able to.

I look forward to the day – not too far away – when the whole nation will again take a pride in its railways. Rejoicing in the finest architecture and engineering structures, matching such icons as Brunel’s bridges across the Thames and the Tamar, Robert Stephenson’s Border bridge at Berwick and the fantastic Forth railway bridge. Not to mention wonderful Victorian railway stations as fine as our medieval cathedrals, like Bristol Temple Meads, York, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Glasgow Central and modern treasures such as Manchester Piccadilly, St Pancras and now again, King’s Cross.

image

Forth Bridge

There is no reason why High Speed Two should not be in the same league as Brunel’s Great Western Railway or Stephenson’s London and Birmingham Railway, adding to – and certainly not detracting from – the landscape, with soaring viaducts, fine stations and supremely engineered track and alignments.

Britain’s railways are back in business, carrying more passengers than at any time in their history.  Unsurprisingly the infrastructure largely bequeathed by our Victorian ancestors is proving unable to carry in comfort all the people who today want to travel by train.  The only alternative to a new high speed line is to force people into their cars and freight on to lorries, and to embark on building a vast new motorway, far more destructive of the environment than a new railway.

Let us remember what the railways did for us and look forward to what HS2, as part of a national integrated railway, will contribute to Britain’s future prosperity.

Find out more about the Railway Heritage Association.


Mar 7

A day in the life of an HS2 apprentice


By Jake Arkle, IT apprentice at HS2 Ltd

Being an HS2 apprentice isn’t all about hard hats and high-vis jackets. Before construction begins in 2017, the project will need a team of highly-skilled IT professionals to ensure the technology works as it should. Jake Arkle, an apprentice on the HS2 IT service team, tells us about his first year on the apprenticeship scheme.

Things have changed a lot since I started at HS2 Ltd 12 months ago.

Back then I didn’t know anything about IT. I started out helping the service engineers, following them as they got on with their work, listening to their conversations, learning about the technology. I’m really proud of how far I’ve progressed. Now people come to me for advice.

This is my first real office job. At first I really thought I’d be at my desk all day every day, but it’s not like that at all. I’m always out and about around the office. Seeing what I can do to help. I really enjoy that part of the job - meeting people, building relationships – and still learning more about the organisation and the way everything works. After a year I probably know at least ten people from every team.

image

They rely on me. For example, I’m responsible for managing mobile assets - Blackberries, laptops, iPads - and keeping a log of each device. So when people leave, I make sure the next owner has the right profile.

I never felt that university was right for me. At first, I planned to go straight into work, but these days it really helps to have experience if you want to get a good job.

What makes apprenticeships different are the learning modules you do alongside the job. I’ve finished that stage of the apprenticeship now, but for eight months I went down to City Gateway, a college in Tower Hamlets, every Friday to study Business Administration and the fundamentals of IT. I found it really useful. It helped me knuckle down and really think about how to improve. I hope it will help me get a full-time job here once my apprenticeship is over. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Most of my school friends are at uni now, but I’m sure I made the right decision. Even if I wasn’t on this apprenticeship, I’d be on a different one. So when people ask me if I’d recommend an apprenticeship, my answer is always the same. Definitely. It’s the best move I ever made.

Find out more about apprenticeship schemes.


Feb 26

What’s a hybrid Bill?

By Simon Knight, Head of Petition Management – Individuals and Communities at HS2 Ltd.

HS2 is my third hybrid Bill for a major railway project, which must tell you something. I’ve also worked on the Crossrail and Channel Tunnel rail link/HS1 bills. Unfortunately this doesn’t qualify me for discounted trips to France, but I am looking forward to taking a ride on Crossrail in the not too distant future.

image

A hybrid Bill is different from a normal Bill in many ways, but the main difference in terms of Parliamentary process is that in addition to the normal public Bill stages – Second Reading, Public Bill Committee, Third Reading – there is a Select Committee stage following Second Reading.

Second Reading is essentially a major debate on the principle of the Bill. In our case, that means that at Second Reading the House of Commons will effectively decide whether HS2 should proceed or not.

After Second Reading those directly affected by the Bill have the opportunity to submit objections to the proposals by petitioning against the Bill and then putting their case to a specially appointed Committee of MPs established to consider the petitions. Petitioners cannot ask the Committee to reject the Bill outright, so the focus will be on mitigating the impact of the proposals. This could be by moving the railway, putting it in tunnel or providing additional compensation.

The Committee sits in a quasi-judicial capacity, hearing evidence from both the Government and petitioners, and can recommend that the Bill be amended or other steps be taken to address the concerns petitioners raise. It’s a bit like having a planning inquiry in the middle of the normal Bill process. This is then repeated in the House of Lords giving people plenty of opportunity to express their views.

So what will the hybrid Bill process require of us? Stamina, flexibility, resilience, the ability to deliver at pace and an attention to detail while at the same time not losing sight of the big picture.

image

So why would you want to put yourself through that sort of process once, let alone several times? Well, for the huge sense of achievement you get when the Bill secures Royal Assent (which only increases when construction starts, and when you travel on the completed railway for the first time) and the team spirit and buzz you get working to deliver a high-profile nationally significant project.

Simon Knight is Head of Petition Management – Individuals and Communities at HS2 Ltd. He worked on the Hybrid Bills for both Crossrail (2005-08) and HS1 (1994-96).


Nov 25

Hybrid Bill

By the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, Secretary of State for Transport

After both the Commons and the Lords gave overwhelming cross party support for the HS2 Paving Act recently, the high speed rail programme has taken another huge step forward today with the publication of the phase one hybrid bill. This is effectively the government’s planning application for HS2, to give us powers to build and run the railway between London and Birmingham. It is a significant milestone for the project, and one which moves the focus of the HS2 debate from ambition to reality, and from concept to delivery.

Photo of the HS2 Bill

Once Royal Assent has been given, we expect to start construction in 2017. That date cannot come too soon because we are already in urgent need of the extra capacity that HS2 will provide. Even today, parts of the West Coast Mainline are full, and unable to carry any more trains. That is why thousands of passengers are standing every morning on services into Euston, Birmingham and Manchester. And the problem is only going to get worse.

HS2 will be a world class, state-of-the-art railway. It will be as stunning to look at as it will be to travel on. And it will be something that we can be proud of as a country. But I’ll be using the passage of the hybrid bill through Parliament to hammer home some of the more fundamental and pressing reasons why we need the new line.

We need it to stop our current railway from being overwhelmed. We need it to transform journeys for rail users by providing almost 20,000 extra seats per hour on our busiest routes. We need it to free up space for commuter and freight services on the current, overcrowded network. We need it to create jobs and help businesses compete, particularly in the north and the Midlands. We need it to take lorries off our congested roads. We need it to provide room for growth. And we need it to cut carbon emissions.

Infographic of how the new HS2 North-South line will revitalise Britain's transport network and boost the economy

Of course the Bill will also give those who may be affected by HS2 the opportunity to petition Parliament – both for and against the proposed line – and have their case heard by MPs. We want to make sure that everyone with an interest is able to access the information. So 250 electronic copies are being given to local libraries, parish councils, local authorities, highways and environmental bodies, and 48 computers are being provided to parish councils and authorities. The document is fully searchable so readers can locate the relevant sections quickly.

We have always encouraged a wide discussion of issues affecting communities along the route. It remains of paramount importance that we do everything we can to minimise the environmental impact of the scheme, and to compensate those with houses or businesses near the line. So I welcome this debate.

But I also want opponents of HS2 to consider what we would do as an alternative. We face a very real capacity crisis in this country, and any further short term measures to patch up the current railway would only delay the need for a bigger commitment by a few years, costing us even more in the long run.

And on that point, I want to put the cost of the project into perspective. We have committed to a budget of £42.6bn for HS2 over 20 years – and this is with a large contingency of over £14bn. As an average, that works out at around £2bn a year, which is the same amount we are spending on Crossrail.

We have set out the clear economic case for HS2. It will deliver well over two pounds of benefit for every one pound spent. But this calculation assumes a growth in demand of just 2.2% a year, while growth in reality is likely to be much higher.

As our economy recovers, the case for HS2 will only grow stronger. This was a point made recently by Michael Heseltine - somebody who back in the 1970s and ‘80s championed the regeneration of London’s former docklands. He said:

“If I had made a speech then predicting the consequences of that decision [ie, investing in docklands], I would never have forecast CanaryWharf, now one of the world’s leading financial centres, a new city airport, and ExCel – a major exhibition centre.
“If I had said those things 40 years ago, I would have been carried off by men in white coats.”

I recognise that not everyone supports HS2, but those who do, and there are many of us, cannot let the doubters and defeatists dictate the future of this country. I want to live in a country that is prepared to invest in its future, that recognises opportunity and seizes it.

It is to Michael Heseltine’s credit that, in the face of substantial opposition, we did invest in Docklands. It showed how good investment and good infrastructure keeps paying the country back, generation after generation. Just as HS2 will.


You can find out more about the HS2 at GOV.UK