Transforming the socio-economic map of Britain through high speed rail
This Government is committed to high speed rail. Indeed, it lies at the heart of our transport policy. Our vision is of a network that is genuinely national and which also connects to Europe via the Channel Tunnel and the UK’s first stretch of high speed rail, HS1. And we think it is vital to integrate Heathrow – as the nation’s gateway to long haul destinations – into the new network we propose. I am convinced that high speed rail can yield huge benefits by increasing capacity and slashing journey times. It also has the potential to transform the cities and regenerate the regions it serves, helping to generate economic growth and spread prosperity. It could also make a contribution to cutting carbon emissions by encouraging a modal shift from road journeys and short haul flights.
Naturally there will be a rigorous public consultation process and proper parliamentary scrutiny of our plans for building a high speed network, beginning with the proposed London to Birmingham line that has come to be known as High Speed Two (HS2). As far as construction is concerned, our aim is to see enabling work begin in 2015.
That proposed start date is important because it is reconcilable with the trajectory we have set ourselves for getting the UK’s public finances back into balance. We also recognise that if it is to be affordable, any new high speed rail network would need to be taken forward in phases. And, finally, a project such as this also needs to be funded in the right way, which delivers the best value for money. We will work with both public and private sector partners over the coming months and years to make that happen.
Without any doubt, the single biggest economic challenge facing this Government and this country is the inherited debt crisis. We are fully focused on bringing the debt down, and keeping it down and every Department will have to play its part, including the DfT.
For the railway industry the new economic reality means that all of us will have to do more with less, drive up efficiency and drive down costs. We will also have to find innovative ways to attract investment and fund projects. Our recent announcement concerning the sale of a 30 year concession on High Speed One (HS1) is a practical example of our determination to do this.
It is vital that we make our national assets work harder for the country and that we harness private enterprise to improve public services and deliver better value for money for the taxpayer. The money generated from the HS1 sale will give a much needed boost to the public finances as we tackle the debt crisis head on. I believe the sale will also benefit passengers because it opens up the real possibility of different operators providing new routes to new destinations.
The economic backdrop against which we have set our policies for high speed rail is certainly dominated by a mountain of inherited debt. However, the Government has made it clear that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past when capital spending cuts were often seen as the easy option in tackling a deficit. Instead, we recognise that well-judged investment in transport infrastructure projects, such as high speed rail, can generate major economic benefits, many times greater than their cost.
High speed rail has the power to transform the socio-economic geography of our country and to improve both our shared environment and our quality of life, of that I have absolutely no doubt. That’s why I proposed it in Opposition and now champion it as a Minister. High speed rail is not just an idea whose time has come – it is a project that this Government can and will deliver.