HS2 'not a political football'
The High Speed 2 (HS2) railway line is vital to the future Britain's economy and cannot be used as a political football, the new boss of the project has said.
Sir David Higgins, appointed yesterday to oversee delivery of the £50 billion project with an annual salary of £591,000, drew on his experience managing the OIympics to demonstrate the need for bipartisan support on huge schemes.
HS2 is a vital replacement to a Victorian railway which cannot continue being patched and mended for further decades, Sir David told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
He said: "People forget, I started (on the Olympics) in late 2005. In 2006, there was not a single positive bit of media coverage. It was all about this will never be done, the budget is ridiculous, it can't be done, we'll be embarrassed about what's going to happen about it... It took about two years for the first green shoots to emerge saying maybe this will happen.
"The absolutely crucial thing, it was on both sides of politics, it was bipartisan. I met with the Chancellor last week and said there was only one thing I really need on this project and that is this has to be bipartisan - you can't have this as a political football, it's too crucial for the nation.
"As I did in the Olympics, I have the right to brief opposition and government both at a local and national level. I've asked for the same right on this project.
"The key issue is setting out the alternative. While we do have the safest railway in Europe, we have the oldest railway in Europe, the growth rates here far outstrip any other utility in the UK and any other railway in Europe, it's essential for economic growth in this country to have a proper modern railway."
Sir David said it was important to make the case for HS2 openly and transparently to maintain support for spending the money.
Outlining the need for the new line, he said: "The case to make is 'what's the alternative?'. If we don't do this, it's patching up for the next 50 years an ageing Victorian railway system which is operating at a capacity way over what it was designed for.
"Regeneration is central to transport so I think HS2 will be a massive catalyst, as it has been in the Thames Gateway... the reason Stratford works so well now is it has nine railway lines. Transport is the centre to all main forms of regeneration.
"Not doing HS2 and expecting northern cities to be more connected and then have greater economic growth is not realistic.
"On the bottom end it's all about capacity," Sir David said.
"Every morning, 4,000 people arriving at Euston stand, that's going to get worse and worse as time goes on.
"In the north, it's about connectivity, it's about 12 big cities being more connected in quicker time and with more capacity."