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HS2 - waiting for clarity on phase two to northern England

HS2 train Image copyright HS2

First it was 2014, then 2015, now it is "by the end of 2016".

Everyone has been waiting a very long time for the government to announce where the second phase of HS2 will actually go, yet a couple of years on we still do not have a route.

That delay is the most likely reason that the HS2 boss Simon Kirby has just left the company for a big job at Rolls-Royce.

Phase two of the route is the bit stretching just north of Birmingham, to Manchester and Leeds.

It is longer, more complex and more politically tricky than the first part, linking Birmingham with London.

Jitters

The current plan is to split into two lines, one forking west to Manchester, the other east to Leeds via Sheffield.

And it is that eastern section that seems to be causing the biggest headaches.

Take Sheffield, for instance.

Controversial plans to build a station just outside the city were unceremoniously ditched recently after months of lobbying by the council.

It wanted a city centre station instead, saying it was better for the local economy.

But the new route comes with its own problems.

Not least, it ploughs through hundreds of homes on a new Doncaster housing estate, part of which is still being built.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sheffield Council says city centre stations are better for the economy

It has made the local MP (Ed Miliband no less) change his tune and start questioning the scheme.

He told the Doncaster Free Press: "The more I hear about this proposed HS2 route, the worse it sounds.

"It will evict families from their homes, disrupt people's lives, and have a significant impact on parts of our beautiful countryside."

I've spoken to several people in the industry, and there are a few jitters about what happens next.

The parliamentary bill to build phase one of the project should get royal assent this year.

Companies have been asked to bid for £12bn worth of work on the line, and those contracts could be awarded early next year.

The new Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, has told the BBC he supports HS2 and has no plans to scrap it.

The chairman of HS2, Sir David Higgins, also told me things were progressing nicely and they were on top of the costs.

HS2-lite?

But the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been rather quiet on the subject.

Hinkley Point proves she is not frightened to pause a mega-project if she has any doubts.

And years after we were promised one, we still do not have a route for phase two of HS2.

The government says it is coming "later this year".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Theresa May may have something to say on HS2

None of this proves that HS2 is in trouble, or that we may end up with a kind of cheaper "HS2-lite".

Big projects such as this will always hit rocky patches.

I remember covering the Ed Balls's conference speech in 2013, when he suggested he might just pull the plug on HS2 if he became chancellor.

He is not even an MP now.

Business leaders always want certainty - but politics rarely provides that.

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