Support from all of the main political parties for high speed rail is essential to turn the vision of 200mph trains between Birmingham and London into a reality, report Paul Dale and Jonathan Walker
A planned high speed rail line to Birmingham may never be built unless politicians can stop bickering over the details, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has warned.
He urged his Conservative opposite number, Theresa Villiers, to work with him and develop a joint policy on high speed services.
Unless the parties stood united on the proposed scheme, which could cost £30 billion, it may never be built, he said.
Lord Adonis was speaking to the Birmingham Post as he prepared for the publication of a detailed report into the exact route to be used by a new high speed service between London and Birmingham.
Regular services cutting journey times between Birmingham and the capital to 45 minutes could boost the West Midlands economy by £2.2 billion a year, according to one study.
But Lord Adonis has been rebuffed in his attempts to draw up a joint policy with the Tories, who also support high speed rail and have their own plans for a line.
He offered Ms Villiers an advanced copy of the report, before its official publication later this month, but she has refused to accept it.
Lord Adonis said: “It’s important because a high speed rail network is going to be a 20, 30 or 40-year project, to develop a credible network.
“It will inevitably span a number of governments. It has very long term planning and funding challenges, and therefore the broader the consensus behind developing a high speed rail project, the more likely it is to succeed.
“Simply taking the first instalment of high speed rail forward, it will take a number of years of planning before we can start construction at all.”
He said nothing would be built until at least the General Election after next, in four or five years time.
“It will take the best part of a Parliament at least simply to go through the planning process.
“So the lead time for these projects is important, and the experience of big infrastructure projects is that where you do have cross-party support, they are much more likely to survive the political ups and downs which inevitably afflict them.”
City council chief executive Stephen Hughes hopes to be able to publish proposals for a Birmingham high speed terminus by the end of June.
The most likely option is to build a station adjoining Moor Street, with improved pedestrian links to New Street Station and the Metro tram system.
The idea is described as “a relatively cost-effective option” by the council, although estimates are not given.
Another idea is to build the high speed terminal at Eastside, next to a new station serving the West Coast Main Line.
A through high speed station in the city centre, doing away with the need for a spur, is described as technically feasible. One option is for an underground station with four tracks, although the cost is likely to rule this out.
Even with the dream of high speed rail tantalisingly near, Mr Hughes is warning that the battle is not yet won. He told a conference of rail experts at the ICC in Birmingham that the UK’s record on investing in major infrastructure was “not good”.
Mr Hughes added: “We do need to keep up the pressure on politicians and officials in government to make this happen.
“Britain is not great at large scale projects like this, our planning and public investment processes can be extremely slow.”
He is also warning high speed supporters to expect a backlash when the government’s preferred route is published.
Hundreds of homes along the route are expected to be at risk, along with sensitive rural sites in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands.
The likelihood is that services will run into Birmingham on a spur from the main high speed line, since the cost of building tunnels and track to enable trains to run north through the city centre joining up again with the West Coast Main Line would be too great.
Such an arrangement would allow up to four 200mph train an hour to run between Birmingham and London.
The step change provided by high speed rail, virtually joining Birmingham and London together in commuter terms, will deliver a massive boost to inward investment in the West Midlands, according to research conducted by the city council, transport authority Centro and the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands.
Firms seeking to relocate from London and the southeast would have a powerful new reason to look at lower rental costs and alternative premises in and around Birmingham.
The benefit to regional economic output, estimated at £2.2 billion by 2060, would be boosted by trains stopping at a new station at Birmingham International Airport and the NEC.
Journey times on the train between BIA and Heathrow would be just 35 minutes – comfortably less than the time it can take to travel from central London to Heathrow by tube.