The northern section of the HS2 high-speed rail network should be built earlier than planned to reduce the project’s £50bn bill.
Sir David Higgins, who became chairman of the project earlier this year, said today that the northern phase of the project should be completed by 2027, six years earlier than planned, to better share the economic benefits of the project around the country.
Under current plans, the first phase of the scheme between London and Birmingham is due to open in 2026 with the second phase extension to Leeds and Manchester due to be completed from 2033, but in a report entitled 'HS2 Plus' Sir David called for an accelerated timetable for the northern phase and a new look at ways of improving connections between phase 2 and the existing railway.
In addition he proposed a larger development at Euston – the project's southern terminus – but he added that plans to link HS2 with HS1, the London to Kent Channel Tunnel high-speed rail link, should be reconsidered.
Outlining his report in Manchester, Sir David, formerly chief executive of Network Rail, said HS2 was "vital for the future of the country" and the government should "accelerate phase two as soon as possible".
He said: "HS2 is an enormous undertaking, but it is not an end in itself. If we do it right, it can be a catalyst for fundamental change at both a local and national level, up and down the country. It is ambitious because it needs to be, to meet the demands not just of the here and now, but of the future."
This would take the line 43 miles further north than planned, to a new transport hub at Crewe in Cheshire which could be completed by 2027, six years earlier than planned, with the Manchester leg of phase two to be completed by the end of March 2030 and the Leeds leg finished by the end of June 2030.
He added that phase one could be operational by Christmas 2026, while his redevelopment vision for Euston would require relocation of certain existing rail services during constructions. He also said that constructing the London stage of the project represented HS2's "biggest challenge".
Sir David said the Crewe option was good for the area and the north of England generally, while a "more comprehensive redevelopment" of Euston could see the station become "an iconic driver of local regeneration whose beneficial effects will be felt for generations".
In addition, decisions would be needed on London commuter connections and a link between the West Coast main line and the cross-London Crossrail scheme.
But Sir David said that despite the potential benefits of HS2, he was "conscious of the price – financial, physical and emotional – that HS2 will demand from the country, from communities and from individuals".
He added: "That is why I have rejected any thought that the project should cut back on planned mitigation measures, whether noise or environmental. Those will continue.
“It is also why I support the government's proposed approach to property compensation. We need to be clear about the impact of the project, as well as its benefits, and address the consequences of that impact, as we are."
Legislation covering phase one is currently going through Parliament, but Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said that the legislation will not be completed before the General Election. In light of this Sir David said reducing the contingencies, which have pushed the total cost of the project up, would be "irresponsible".
"The uncertainty over the legislative timetable plus the inherent risks associated with any project at this early stage is why I have resisted the temptation to reduce the large contingency contained in the budget,” he said.
"None of that is to rule out the possibility that a target for a lower budget for phase one could be set at some point in the future, but only when the legislative timetable becomes clearer and more certain.
Business Secretary Vince Cable expressed support for Sir David's phase two plans while the Institution of Civil Engineers and the CBI were among other groups that received the report warmly, but anti-HS2 groups cast doubt on the possibility of bringing forward the phase 2 work.
Joe Rukin, campaign manager for Stop HS2, said: "David Higgins has spent three months looking for cost savings for HS2 and he hasn't found a single bean. Any pretence that the costs of HS2 are under control are a fraudulent attempt to con the public."
He added that the £50bn cost was "always too low, and represents the cost if the whole project was built in one year and that year was 2011".
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "We need to make sure that the north does not suffer a lost decade of growth while the south-east powers ahead of the rest of the country with the lion's share of the budget. The £50bn investment must benefit the whole country if it is to help re-balance the economy."