HS2 fast-tracked to put the North first by Sir David Higgins - and to start as soon as possible

First phase of high-speed railway’s construction will extend beyond Birmingham, while ministers are told the only way of keeping costs down is to start building now

Plans to create a high-speed rail link across England should be dramatically accelerated and increased in ambition, the man brought in to sort out the £50bn HS2 project tells the Government today.

In his long-awaited report on the progress of the rail link, Sir David Higgins will tell ministers that their only chance of keeping the costs under control is to be more bold and to get the job done as quickly as possible.

Opponents of HS2 have complained that the initial phase, which will run from London to Birmingham, would bring no benefits to the north of the country.

Sir David’s answer is to make phase one stretch another 43 miles to the old railway town of Crewe, which would become a major transport hub, six years earlier than currently planned.

Speeding up the project will help keep costs under control because it will reduce uncertainty and limit the impact of inflation, he believes.

An Australian who previously ran the Olympic Delivery Authority, Sir David was brought in earlier this year to run HS2 as the escalating costs of the project threatened to become a political issue at the 2015 general election.

The Government is determined to see the project go ahead, but Labour’s shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has warned “there is no blank cheque” for the scheme.

Yesterday, Mr Balls told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “David Cameron and George Osborne, who’d lost a grip on this project, panicked and brought in David Higgins to do a review. I hope he will show he’s got the costs down and got a grip on this project. If he does that, we will support this.”

Sir David also suggests that current plans to expand London’s Euston station, which links the capital and the north west, are not ambitious enough. Last April, a plan to demolish and rebuild Euston was dropped after the estimated cost went up by £500m, and was replaced with a scaled down proposal which the leader of Camden Council, Sarah Hayward, scathingly described as “a shed being bolted on to an existing lean-to”.

Last month, the Chancellor George Osborne hinted at a rethink when he talked of turning Euston into a major development, with a shopping centre. Sir David has backed the Chancellor, though he acknowledged that Euston’s location, close to social housing, makes any planned upgrading “particularly difficult”.

Read more: HS2 will be expensive and destructive – but it is also the only way to revitalise Britain's railways

He suggested: “An alternative proposal that the Government could consider is a level deck design, which would enable access from one side of the station to the other, better connecting the station to the local area and the community. It could also create the potential for over-site development, which could combine, housing, retail and commercial development.”

Sir David has effectively ruled out any reduction in the budget for phase one of the project. In his report published in Manchester today he opposes making any cuts in the proposals to reduce noise or environmental damage, and he says it would be “irresponsible to reduce the substantial contingency” included in the London to Birmingham phase.

This contingency has pushed the price of phase one up to £21.4bn with £3bn for the trains, while the cost of the second phase, taking the line in a Y-shape to north west and north east England, is put at £21.2bn with around £4.5bn for the trains.

Phase one, taking the line from London through the Conservative heartlands of the Chilterns to Birmingham, is set to be completed in 2026, while phase two is likely to be finished around 2032/33.

The scheme has provoked fierce opposition from people living along the proposed route, as well as drawing warnings from environmental groups about the potential damage to the countryside and to heritage sites. It has also been suggested that the first phase will aggravate the existing north-south divide by bringing new investment and jobs to the south, when there is urgent need for better rail links in the north, for instance across the Pennines.

Sir David has suggested that instead of ending at Birmingham, phase one should extend to Crewe, which would then provide a link between London, Wales and the north west. His report acknowledges that nearly half of all public expenditure on transport goes to London and the south east, which he said was a reflection of the way well paid jobs are concentrated in London, causing a relentless pressure on commuter traffic in and out of the capital.

He also acknowledged that rail links between northern cities are poor. Fewer than one in 200 of the people who commute into Manchester come from the Leeds area, which is only 40 miles away and is home to 2.2 million people.

The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, yesterday backed calls for the north to feel the benefits of the project sooner. “On every visit I make to the north of England, I have heard businesses and council leaders make a very compelling case for getting to the north more quickly by accelerating parts of the HS2 build,” he told The Observer.

HS2 in numbers

£21.4bn Estimated price of phase one, with £3bn for the trains

£21.2bn Estimated price of phase two, with £4.5bn for the trains

43 miles Extension of phase one, to Crewe, suggested by Sir David Higgins

30% Projected increase in passenger and freight demand over the next decade

45% of total public expenditure on transport in England that was spent in London and the South-East in 2010-11

0.5% of commuters into Manchester come from Leeds, 40 miles away

£500m Increase in estimated cost to rebuild Euston Station, leading to plan being dropped last year

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls