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What is HS2?

HS2 is an ambitious project to build a high-speed rail line across England to connect some of the country’s largest cities. The project was officially given the go-ahead by the Prime Minister in February 2020, following the Oakervee Review.

It is being delivered in three phases: Phase One, Phase 2a and Phase 2b. Parliamentary approval for Phase One and Phase 2a have already been given through the High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Act 2017 (Phase One) and the High Speed Rail (West Midlands to Crewe) Act 2021 (Phase 2a). However, there has been some uncertainty over the final phase (Phase 2b) of the project, which consists of an Eastern leg and a Western leg.

The Government published its Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands (IRP) on 18 November 2021. The IRP outlines the Government’s plans for delivering and sequencing rail investments in both regions, including Phase 2b of HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other regional rail investments.

Within the IRP, the Government set out its decision not to proceed with its previous plan to build a new high-speed line from Birmingham to Leeds. The Eastern leg will now run from the West Midlands to the East Midlands, ending at East Midlands Parkway. However, the Government has committed to look at the best way of bringing HS2 trains to Leeds.

Phase 2b, therefore, currently consists of an Eastern leg (from the West Midlands to East Midlands Parkway) and a Western leg (from Crewe to Manchester). A hybrid bill for the Western leg, the High-Speed Rail (Crewe to Manchester) Bill, was introduced to Parliament on 24 January 2022.

Why build HS2?

The case to have a high-speed railway running through the centre of Britain was first formally made by the Labour Government in 2010. At the heart of the strategic case for HS2 is the desire to address capacity constraints on the north-south rail links in England. Proponents of the project also say it will improve transport times, create jobs and help the country’s economy. The Government also sees this investment in HS2 – and wider transport investment – as an opportunity to drive growth in regional economies and create opportunities for regeneration.  

How much will HS2 cost?

The Government will directly fund HS2. In 2013, HS2 was estimated to cost £37.5bn (in 2009 prices). The forecast costs have grown since, which has led some to question whether HS2 provides value for money. In 2020, the cost estimates for completing all three phases of the HS2 network increased from £72bn to £98bn (in 2019 prices). However, these cost estimates included the previously planned route to Leeds. Phase One from London to Birmingham is currently estimated to cost between £35-45bn (in 2019 prices) whereas Phase 2a is estimated to cost between £5-7bn (in 2019 prices).

Phase 2b has been subject to some uncertainty. In November 2021, figures within the Integrated Rail Plan suggest the Western leg of Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester is expected to cost £17bn (in 2019 prices). Following its decision to build the eastern leg to the East Midlands instead of Leeds, the Integrated Rail Plan confirmed the Government expects this new line, together with upgrades to the Midland Main Line and East Coast Main Line, to cost a total £12.8billion (in 2019 prices). The entirety of Phase 2b was previously estimated to cost between £32bn-46bn (in 2019 prices).

What is the environmental impact of HS2?

Advocates for HS2 say the line will provide a cleaner and greener way to travel, but critics argue the carbon savings would be minimal and that there are less environmentally damaging, cheaper alternatives. Further, critics of HS2 have raised concerns over potential damage that construction of the line will cause to ancient woodlands.

What are the community impacts?

In some areas, houses may have to be demolished to make way for the construction of HS2. The Government has been buying properties from people in areas which are affected. There are a number of schemes available to compensate people who own homes, property and land affected by HS2. The schemes available are based on how close land or property is to the line, and how the property is being affected.


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