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Sir John Armitt urges ministers to spend an extra £43bn to “make the most” of HS2

The chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has called on the government to invest heavily in transport links across UK cities to ensure the public gets the most out of HS2.

Sir John Armitt says the extra £43bn is needed to prevent “inadequate transport links” for those using public transport in cities across the country, not just those on the HS2 route, this is despite the sum coming close to double the current forecast. The scheme is currently due to cost £56bn but a recent cabinet office assessment said it was “highly likely” to cost at least 60% more, taking the total to more than £80bn.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the NIC chair, said: “HS2 is the most significant investment in the capacity and connectivity of our transport networks for a generation or more. The potential impact could extend 100 years or more, and upfront costs should be considered in that context. This means we cannot simply construct a new high-speed rail line and leave it at that: to get the biggest bang for our buck we need to think about the whole journey.”

The HS2 project plans to create 330 miles of new track linking London, the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds. The first phase between London and the West Midlands would carry 400m-long trains with as many as 1,100 seats per train. Operators say they would travel at speeds of up to 250mph - faster than any current operating speed in Europe.

This would be followed by a V-shaped second phase taking services from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds. The Department for Transport says there will be almost 15,000 seats an hour on trains between London and the cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds - treble the current capacity.

Armitt has defended his revised monetary figure to ensure HS2 is a success and says it is not an “unaffordable pipe dream”, but the best way to “make the most of all that HS2 will have to offer”. The chair in his article also highlighted the need for ministers to concentrate funding efforts in cities outside of London and ensure that those most congested cities got the support they needed for major infrastructure developments. 

A National Infrastructure Commission spokesman added: “We need to invest both in our intercity links and in urban networks which is why we have proposed devolving powers and funding to cities across the country helping to improve local transport connections. This, on top of HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and Crossrail 2 in London will help boost economic growth.”

But former ministers and campaign groups opposing HS2 have reacted by calling for a complete re-evaluation of the project. 

A spokesman for the Stop HS2 campaign said: “Costings for HS2 have been kept artificially low to try and con gullible politicians that it’s a good idea. But it’s a vast waste of money. It’s time to scrap it before more money is spent on it.”