The proposed Birmingham Fazeley canal viaduct that will carry the HS2 line

Special HS2 minister needed says taskforce

A special HS2 minister should be appointed to ensure the £50bn high-speed rail project boosts growth and regeneration.

A report from the project’s growth taskforce, led by Lord Deighton, 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" but a minister was needed to ensure these remained a priority.

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

The report said: "It is clear to us that we cannot expect to get the most out ofHS2 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 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.

Jeremy Acklam from the Institution of Engineering and Technology said: “There is great potential through the connections to the east and west coast main lines for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2, but the challenges around realising these benefits need to be tackled now if these locations are not to fall behind.

“In addition, many of these smaller cities could be reached by HS2 trains moving to the classic railway network to complete their journey. But this will require new or significantly enhanced stations.

“We need an urgent dialogue between HS2, Network Rail, the Train Operating Companies and local authorities to fully understand the challenges that the arrival of high speed trains will bring to the classic railway network. My fear is that this dialogue could be left until the next Network Rail control period, which will be far too late.”

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.

On Friday the taskforce said the 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."

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."

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