The northern section of the £50bn high-speed rail line should be completed faster and the link with HS1 scrapped, according to HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins.
The Higgins report said a new station at Crewe in Cheshire should be completed by 2027, six years ahead of schedule, and that phase two – taking the line north from Birmingham in a Y-shape to north west and north east England, could be finished by the end of 2030 – three years earlier than planned.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin responded by saying he was asking HS2 Ltd and Northern Rail to look at the Crewe/phase two proposals. Phase one of HS2 would see a line running from London through Tory heartlands to Birmingham and is due for completion in 2026.
The current whole-line cost, including contingencies, is £42.6bn, with £7.5bn for the trains.
In his report, Sir David said reducing the contingencies, which have pushed the total cost of the project up, would be “irresponsible”.
But he said cost cuts might be possible later and he laid down the gauntlet to politicians by saying the speedier the HS2 legislation, the better for cost reductions.
Sir David said that despite the potential benefits of HS2, he was “conscious of the price – financial, physical and emotional – that HS2 will demand from the country, from communities and from individuals”.
A plan to connect the proposed HS2 rail link with the Eurostar service at St Pancras has been axed after recommendations by Sir David.
Mr McLoughlin announced that he was removing the link from the bill currently going through parliament and would look at other ways of linking HS2 with the continent.
Sir Higgins said in his report: “The HS2 platforms at Euston will be a short distance from those at HS1, and one stop on the underground.
“That is the equivalent of transferring from one terminal to another at Heathrow.
“I believe the government should, therefore, consider whether the cost – at around £700m – is good value or whether it would be better to consider an alternative, which would deliver the benefits of a link without compromising existing services.”
The transport secretary also agreed with Sir David’s view that a more expansive Euston station should be considered.
He said: “Sir David Higgins proposes to build HS2 better and bring the benefits to the north sooner. He has the government’s strong support.
“HS2 is a vital part of our long-term economic plan. It will provide the extra space we need on our rail network for trains and passengers, link our northern cities and provide jobs and skills.
“HS2 is the right project at the right price and I believe implementing the measures Sir David recommends in the right way will deliver the benefits of HS2 faster.”
Challenging the politicians to get legislation through as quickly as possible, Sir David said; “The more certainty there is about the timescale, the more possible it is to control cost through economies of scale.
“That is why getting clarity over the duration of the parliamentary process is key. The more clarity parliament can provide the more I can reduce contingency and therefore the ultimate cost.”
He went on: “This project is too big to become a political football.” He added that parliamentary scrutiny of HS2 was important, but was obviously time consuming.
He said that “if done right”, HS2 would “address the issues of congestion in the south and lack of connectivity in the north”.
Legislation covering phase one is currently going through parliament, Mr McLoughlin has said that the legislation will not be completed before the general election.
Speaking in Manchester today after launching his report, Sir David said he was hoping that the HS2 bill would get royal assent in 2016 so that work on phase one could start, as planned, in 2017.