| 5.9°C Belfast

Taskforce calls for HS2 minister


A taskforce led by Lord Deighton has called on the Government to appoint a special HS2 minister

A taskforce led by Lord Deighton has called on the Government to appoint a special HS2 minister

A taskforce led by Lord Deighton has called on the Government to appoint a special HS2 minister

The Government should appoint a special HS2 minister, says a report from the growth taskforce for the £50 billion high-speed rail project.

The new minister would ensure growth and regeneration around HS2 remained a priority, the taskforce said.

Led by Lord Deighton, the taskforce said the scale of HS2 was "without precedent" and " could catalyse far-reaching economic and social benefits, particularly to the cities of the Midlands and the North".

The report went on: "So it is clear to us that we cannot expect t o get the most out of HS2 simply by following ' business as usual'.

"We must set our sights high, challenge the status quo and be clear about our goal of building a truly transformational piece of national infrastructure."

Lord Deighton, who like HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins played a key role in delivering the London 2012 Olympics, made a reference in the report's foreword to a line from the cult film Field of Dreams in which the Kevin Costner character hears a voice telling him to turn his farm fields into a baseball park and spectators would arrive.

Lord Deighton said: " This report makes clear that we must not take a 'build it and they will come' attitude to HS2. It is up to all of us to make the most of this unique opportunity.

"Our conclusion is that HS2 could be much more than a railway. It could be an exciting and transformational opportunity, particularly for our cities in the Midlands and the North, to invest in our future economic growth."

The report made a number of recommendations to the Government. These included establishing for each HS2 station an HS2 g rowth strategy by the end of 2014 to explain how high-speed rail will generate local jobs, growth and regeneration.

The Deighton team also said the Government and Network Rail should set out by the end of 2014 their plan for defining how HS2 will affect rail services for cities off the HS2 route and for rail freight, and also their plans for a wider review of rail services.

In addition, the report said the Government must complete as soon as possible, and act upon, the review of how its transport appraisal methodology quantifies economic benefits. It should set out its plan and timetable for this work by the end of 2014.

Earlier this week Sir David launched a report calling on the Government to set in motion plans to have phase 2 of the project, from Birmingham to north west and north east England, completed three years earlier than its projected 2032/33 date.

Today the taskforce said t he Government's decisions on phase two station locations " should be informed by a thorough examination of economic growth potential in each proposed station location".

The report added: "HS2 Ltd must ensure strong working relationships with its contractors and workforces to deliver exceptional results.

"It should start discussions with employers and trade unions by the end of 2014 to agree a framework to deliver high standards in working practices and skills development."

Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: "Lord Deighton has said there shouldn't be an 'if you build it, they will come' attitude to HS2, but that is how they have been operating for the last four years.

"While the case for HS2 only exists in a vested interest 'Field of Dreams', the reality of the project is a waking nightmare for the taxpayer."

A spokesman for industry body the Rail Delivery Group said: "Lord Deighton is right to say that HS2 could be much more than a railway. It should be seen as the future backbone of Britain's growing rail network, serving the needs of a modern and dynamic economy.

"The time has come to move on from debating if HS2 is necessary, and instead focus on planning how to maximise the benefits it can bring.

"The rail industry will work with Government, HS2 Ltd, passenger groups and suppliers to help ensure the new line is a big success."

Former Tory cabinet minister Lord Heseltine said: "The HS2 growth taskforce has shown just the kind of thinking needed to maximise growth and unleash the potential of great cities such as Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield.

"The report provides a clear view of what must be done, and equally importantly who must do it, if we are to get Britain truly ready to benefit from HS2."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "This report is an important contribution from a highly respected team of public and private sector leaders and it demonstrates just how vital HS2 is to our economic growth. The report contains some very interesting recommendations, which will now be considered."

Treasury Commercial Secretary Lord Deighton said he wanted "a sense of national mission" around the HS2 project.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "What my taskforce concluded was that this project, given its scale and its importance, has the potential to be transformational but, in order to capture those wider economic benefits, there are a number of things we need to do, and we need to act now."

He said the cities which would need new stations had to be ready for the project, the workforce needed to be trained up and the transport network, particularly in northern England, had to be able to connect to the new HS2 line.

"It has to be properly integrated into the transport network," he said.

Drawing on his Olympics experience, the minister added:" We want a sense of national mission around this because the benefits are potentially enormous but we need to come together and work together to realise them effectively.

"That's really what our report's about - let's make sure that we bring that same kind of focus to deliver these benefits for the country."