What’s happening with HS2? The high-speed rail project has now lost its chief executive, Simon Kirby, headhunted by Rolls-Royce at an unspecified multiple of his £750,000 HS2 salary. Rumour-mongers say the true final cost of the project is now closer to £80 billion than the official figure of £55 billion, and that chairman Sir David Higgins may not renew his contract next year. Today’s Sunday Times reveals some £35 million a month has been spent already, buying up houses in places where the line won’t open for 17 years. and sending squads of people to monitor bats. HS2’s critics say the strategy is to spend so much money now that it can’t be cancelled – one farmer reports 46 visits from HS2 this year alone to look into bats, owls, reptiles and trees.
An announcement on the final route of northern spurs to Manchester and Leeds is long overdue, but there’s a huge row going on over a decision to bash through central Sheffield (demolishing a housing estate to do so) rather than via the out-of-town Meadowhall shopping centre.
Well, you might say, big infrastructure projects never run smoothly, the nation needs a radical increase in north-south rail capacity, and neither Theresa May nor the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has given any hint of backing away. But the odds on HS2 happening in untruncated form and within our lifetimes are lengthening by the month. And if a decision came out of the blue to build HS3 instead — that’s the fast link from Manchester to Leeds or, even better, Liverpool to Hull — I suspect the north would let out a unanimous cheer.