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Britain to go ahead with controversial HS2 railway project

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-12 10:01

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens during a visit to Curzon Street railway station where the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project is under construction, in Birmingham, Britain, Feb 11, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Boris Johnson vows support, despite budget and environmental concerns

The British government on Tuesday approved its controversial High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project linking London with the north of England, despite concerns about its budget and environmental impact.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved the entire project in a statement to Parliament, despite the estimates that it will cost 106 billion pounds ($137 billion).

The project-which will link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds-has been fiercely opposed by environmental campaigners and hit by construction delays and spiralling costs.

An independent review commissioned by the government recommended that the full project should go ahead, after years of work preparing the phase one route between London and Birmingham. Supporters say it will regenerate the economy by boosting capacity and cutting journey times.

"Today the Cabinet has given high speed rail the green signal," Johnson told the House of Commons. Johnson also criticized the HS2 company's management of the project and in an effort to "restore discipline to the program "he said he would appoint a minister whose full-time job will be to oversee HS2.

"I cannot say that HS2 limited has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities. The cost forecasts have exploded, but poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project."

He said that phase one of HS2 is estimated to cost 35-45 billion pounds in today's prices, with services running by "the end of the decade". The second phase to Manchester and Leeds was due to open in 2032-33, but its completion is now estimated for 2035-40.

Johnson said he hoped if work started immediately that trains "could be running by the end of the decade".

HS2 has been the subject of years of intensive lobbying from politicians and opposition groups. Several environmental organizations claim building it will cause huge damage to natural habitats. Communities living on or near the route have expressed anger at the impact on their lives, while many people have said the project is simply too expensive.

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Labour Party supports HS2 as a means "to boost regional economies and slash climate emissions". He added: "HS2 must be developed with more sensitivity to local communities and the environment, particularly regarding the impact it will have on woodlands.

"And if it is to have public support the fares on HS2 must be affordable. Can the prime minister tell us where the trains will be built? Will those jobs and training be in this country?"

Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald claimed HS2 has been "appallingly mismanaged" by the Conservative Party. He called for the highspeed railway to be integrated with extended high-speed lines to Scotland to "remove the need for domestic flights".

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told the BBC the train line would help cut overcrowding: "We need a better backbone for our public transport services, the capacity HS2 is going to deliver is absolutely crucial."

Other transport initiatives announced on Tuesday are aimed at answering critics who fear the high cost of HS2 will mean other infrastructure projects are sidelined. The prime minster has allocated 5 billion pounds to overhaul bus and cycle links across the UK, including simpler fares, thousands of new buses, improved routes and higher frequencies of services.

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