Without question, it has been a very good week for high speed rail

There was something rather energising about hearing elected politicians from across the political spectrum passionately debating the need for public investment in the next generation of railway for the UK. 

“It is time to connect great cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds,” said Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin. “It is time for better links between north and south and between east and west, and time to connect to world markets to make the most of their skills and talents. It is time for HS2; time for a new north-south railway line.”

And from his shadow Mary Creagh similar enthusiasm: “Managed properly, HS2 has the power to transform the economic geography of our country,” she told MPs. “It will build up our great cities and bring them closer together; it will help to rebalance the economy, creating new skilled jobs and apprenticeships in every nation and region of our economy.”

Key to good planning and design is the ability to look at problems from all angles with an open mind.

For all the national media hype about rebelling back-benchers, the outcome was, of course, never really in doubt. Political support for this economically transformative project remains rock solid. 

And so it should be. As I have written many times before, this is a project that the UK cannot do without and, for many economic and cost reasons, cannot afford to delay. 

But we must also keep focus on the two words used deliberately by Mary Creagh namely “managed properly”. For all the support now, these words are critical. 

As objectors to the project will continue to remind over the two years it will inevitably take to move this project through parliament, there is a long way to go yet and a huge amount of work to do to ensure that the project remains on programme and so on budget.

Sir David Higgins’s recent HS2plus report made it very clear that time is money when it comes to major project delivery and, judging by the number of references to this bit of advice in this week’s debate, it seems to have been taken on board as MPs reacted appropriately to the need to stick to the debate timescales.

However, as Higgins would be first to accept, working at pace does not mean abandoning the vital discussion and local debate needed to ensure that the scheme is fit for purpose and delivers the greatest nationwide benefits.

Key to good planning and design is the ability to look at problems from all angles with an open mind. Local knowledge is a hugely powerful and informative part of the process of finding the right infrastructure solution. 

In the case of HS2, we can certainly expect that there will be plenty of local knowledge to take on board.

And that is as it should be. The process that the HS2 project is about to go through must not slow down or add cost to the project. But it must be, as  Mary Creagh outs it, managed properly so as to ensure that the huge amount of support enjoyed today is justified tomorrow.

Antony Oliver is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence

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