speeding train hs2

HS2: green groups critical as engineering sector welcomes infrastructure upgrade

Image credit: Dreamstime

Green groups have reacted in dismay after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that HS2 will be going ahead while the engineering sector has cautiously welcomed the project, which will expand capacity on Britain’s railways.

In his speech announcing the decision, Johnson said the UK was being held back by its “inadequate infrastructure” and that “efficient transport” can “clean the air, cut pollution and get cars off the road”.

He added that it will help the UK meet its ambition of a net zero carbon economy by 2050 and will lead to a “vast increase in capacity, with hundreds of thousands of extra seats”.

Johnson plans to appoint a cabinet minister with the sole task of overseeing the massive project, who will also be looking at where cost savings can be made as the budget balloons to nearly triple the original estimation.

But Adam Cormack, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust, said the scheme would “shoot a poisoned arrow through the heart of our ancient woods and their wildlife”.

“Future generations won’t forget the disregard shown for the environmental costs of HS2, especially at a time when recognition has never been greater of the need to protect the environment in the face of the climate and nature emergency.”

The Wildlife Trusts’ Nikki Williams agreed, saying nature is paying too high a price for HS2.

“Today’s announcement means that it is more critical than ever that the whole project is redesigned – before HS2 creates a scar that can never heal,” she said citing the UK’s “irreplaceable” meadows, ancient woodlands and wetlands.

Friends of the Earth’s campaigns director Jamie Peters said that the estimated £100bn earmarked for the project “would be better spent fixing the dilapidated commuter rail network and funding other initiatives to encourage people out of their cars”.

But the general secretary of transport union TSSA Manuel Cortes believes it could boost the UK’s green credentials as passengers will be able to transfer from domestic flights “and in so doing cut our carbon emissions and fight climate change”.

“Nearly half of Britain’s population will be linked by HS2 services around Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London but I say directly now to Johnson – grasp the nettle – and commit to taking HS2 all the way to Scotland,” he said

“Frankly there should have been no Oakervee and no bending the knee to short-sighted Tory backbenchers focused only on their own backyard.”

The chief executive of the Railway Industry Association Darren Caplan said it will “unlock” economic growth throughout the UK by directly connecting eight out of ten of the UK’s largest cities and “increasing capacity at 73 stations serving towns and communities across the country”.

“The jobs and housing benefits are clear too. HS2 already employs 10,000 people, will support 15,000 by the end of the year, and 30,000 at peak construction,” he added.

Hitachi and Bombardier, who have launched a joint bid to build the trains for HS2, were predictably pleased with the announcement.

Bombardier’s UK president Phil Hufton said: “HS2 is this generation's chance to transform our country. Our Great British train will connect our great cities and improve the journeys of every passenger. HS2’s vision is to be a catalyst for growth across Britain – we are ready to make that happen.”

Meanwhile the director general of UK Steel Gareth Stace implored the government to ensure that the vast quantities of steel used in the project be sourced from UK firms in order to provide a boost to the domestic industry.

“It is estimated that HS2 will use two million tonnes of steel over the next 10 years and the UK’s steel producers stand ready to supply the steel for the new track, rolling stock, tunnels, bridges and much more besides,” he said.

“The use of UK-made steel for HS2 would support over 2,000 jobs, and deliver £1.5bn to the UK economy – ensuring the benefits of this project are not just felt along the route, but in steel communities across the UK.”

Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, said the government now has a “once in a generation opportunity” to develop a fully integrated transport plan for the whole country “which it should grab with both hands”. 

He said it was never “an ‘either or’ decision favouring one project at the expense of other infrastructure investments including better East West links, especially across the Pennines”.

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