Plans for a high speed rail network with Birmingham at its heart are threatened by the government’s refusal to publish the route of proposed lines between Birmingham and Manchester and Leeds, according to a former Transport Secretary.
Lord Adonis, the Labour peer who masterminded the high speed rail scheme as Transport Secretary between 2009 and 2010, said failure to press ahead could put jobs at risk in the Midlands and the North.
He urged current Transport Secretary Justine Greening to hurry up and publish the planned route for the second phase of the project, which involves two lines from Birmingham, heading north east and north west.
Ms Greening revealed on March 27 that she had received details of the proposed route and stations from HS2 Ltd, the company set up by the government to develop the scheme.
But she has not yet published the proposals or launched a consultation on them, almost three months later.
Lord Adonis also criticised the government for delaying consultations about schemes to compensate property owners who will be affected by the line.
And he urged ministers to bring forward a planned Hybrid Bill, which will give the Department for Transport the authority to build the new line. This is due to come to the Commons towards the end of 2013, but it should be bought forward at least to the middle of next year, he said.
The first phase of the line, known as High Speed Two or HS2, is due to open in 2026, but Lord Adonis said it could be delayed until as late as 2040 if the government failed to act.
He said: “I have very little doubt that HS2 will go ahead. We can’t carry on with endless patch jobs on the West Coast Main Line.
“There is a big difference between a decision being taken to do that now, leading to the line opening in the 2020s, and another decade of dither and delay, which could mean it opening in the 2030s or 2040s.”
He added: “For the sake of jobs and prosperity, particularly in the Midlands and the North, we need it to be in the 2020s.’’
Lord Adonis, who visited David Cameron in Downing Street in May, confirmed that he had lobbied the Prime Minister to speed up the high speed rail project.
He said: “They are delaying on two crucial issues. One is publishing the route north of Birmingham, which the department has had for months. The other is the consultation on compensation, which they have kept delaying.”
The government says it is committed to a timetable which includes “engagement” with residents along phase two of the network beginning in autumn 2012, and a formal consultation on phase two beginning in early 2014. The hybrid bill would be introduced in “late 2013”.
But Lord Adonis said that this meant the bill would be discussed as attention was beginning to focus on the prospect of a General Election, which is currently due to take place in May 2015 if the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition survives.
“That timetable is highly problematic politically, because it doesn’t produce a bill until the back end of this Parliament. I think the bill could easily slip into 2014.
“Who knows what sort of state the coalition will be in by that time – or the Conservative Party. It’s not possible to produce this bill overnight but they should introduce it in the summer of 2013.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Co-ordinator Joe Rukin said; “We’ve always known it was a tight Parliamentary timetable to get HS2 through as a hybrid bill in a year-and-a-half, but it was Andrew Adonis who set that timetable.
“He might be right that the coalition is getting cold feet, but that simply shows that they are paying attention to the falling apart business case.”
The Spectator, the weekly political magazine with close links to the Conservative Party, has reported that many government ministers now doubt whether HS2 will go ahead, although it continues to have the support of David Cameron, the Prime Minister.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron restated his backing for the scheme, saying: “I think HS2 is very important for the economy of our country. I think it’s very important we get on board this high speed rail revolution. I’m very keen that we press ahead with it.”