HS2 task force wants government minister for growth projects

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HS2 Taskforce chairman Lord Deighton: Prepare to "take advantage of what are potentially enormous economic benefits"

A government task force has said the controversial high-speed rail project HS2 needs a minister to co-ordinate local growth projects along its route.

The HS2 Growth Taskforce report argues that "HS2 can help rebalance the economy, kick-starting growth and regeneration in our cities."

The anti-HS2 group claims the report shows it will go way over budget.

The campaign manager for Stop HS2, Joe Rukin said: "The project is a waking nightmare for the taxpayer."

'Unique opportunity'

The report says new local bodies should create growth plans around stations to "supercharge their city regions".

It says: "As was so successful with the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we want a dedicated minister to be appointed to lead regeneration and development around HS2 at the national level."

It recommends local authorities create "delivery bodies" to design growth strategies for each station on the route and integrate them into local transport networks.

It argues that HS2 will improve the competitiveness of major cities in the Midlands and the North of England, enabling them to compete globally.

Anti-HS2 campaigners say the report demonstrates that the project will need even more investment if it is to bring real benefits to the regions.

Lord Deighton, former chief executive of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and who chairs the taskforce. said HS2 could be delivered "on time and on budget".

He 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 in the government, local authorities, HS2 Ltd and UK businesses to make the most of this unique opportunity."

The first, London to Birmingham, section of the route is not set to open until 2026.

And Lord Deighton said the "longer lead time" for the project would give UK cities and businesses, which he believes will benefit from HS2, more time to prepare and bid for project contracts.

He said that outsourcing contracts to foreign companies would be an "extremely short-term way of looking at this".

'Price tag'

Penny Gaines, Chair of Stop HS2 said: "Simply building a fast train to London is not going to regenerate the areas in the North and Midlands which need it.

"It's always been clear that creating regeneration would take many more billions than the current £50bn price tag of HS2."

But London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "Lord Deighton helped us to deliver the most successful Olympic Games in living memory and we should listen carefully to what he has to say about HS2.

"As we've seen in London with Crossrail, we can reap huge benefits for the wider economy from major transport projects - a fact that's been a bit lost in much of the debate swirling around HS2," he added.

"This report rightly highlights the massive opportunities that HS2 presents for UK businesses, jobs and skills and we should use it as a blueprint for success. We're already cracking on with setting up a body that's dedicated to maximise the major regeneration potential of HS2 and it makes perfect sense for other towns and cities to do the same."

Image source, PA
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Sir David Higgins started as chairman of HS2 on Tuesday

The report's recommendations follow another report from Sir David Higgins, the ex-Network Rail boss and chairman of HS2, earlier this week.

In it he said the second phase of the high-speed rail project should be accelerated by some six years, with the 43-mile stretch north to Crewe being built in the first phase of construction.

The Growth Taskforce is made up of 15 local and national politicians, trade unionists, and business leaders from the public and private sector.