High Speeding it out of Heathrow runway furore

The 15th January 2009 saw the Government announce their backing for a third runway at Heathrow and immediately threw the country into a divide. Geoff Hoon, recommended "the airport owner "brought forward" a planning application for the runway after he made the surprise decision not to increase flights on the existing runways" with backing to expand the airport as soon as possible after 2015; http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/16/baa-third-runway-heathrow.

The announcement was accompanied by public transport measures including the expansion of the use of the hard-should on parts of the M1 and M6 after being piloted around Birmingham on the M42, a measure already announced however.

There were also moves towards High Speed rail lines, again not a new measure although this time with a new company called High Speed 2 being created. High Speed 2 would develop proposals involving the creation of a high-speed rail hub at Heathrow and the extension of High Speed to the Midlands. The company would report back by the end of the year.

I blogged on the proposal for a Heathrow Hub in May 2008, Heathrow Hub Proposed, reporting the Arup plan for a station to include 12 platforms opening up high speed connections to the west, south-west, Wales and the Midlands into Europe.

Hoon said High Speed 2 would report on progress by the end of the year. But rail industry doubts funding can be found for such a project costing an estimated £5bn alone to run from London to Heathrow.

The plans while welcome as a first precursor into a High Speed network for the UK have drawn criticism from Glasgow and Manchester, two cities who had spoken of the need to connect the major cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Manchester Evening News blogger David Ottewell says after the rejecting of Congestion Charging by Manchester and therefore the rejection of £3bn funding from Whitehall for public transport the decision to go as far as the midlands is betrayal of the North and aims only "To link the south, in other words, with the near-south", http://blogs.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/politics/2009/01/post_511.html.

As The Herald comments Government advisers believe a High Speed link from London to Scotland would reduce the journey time to three hours and would boost the Scottish economy by approximately £7bn. They are concerned that developing a route to Birmingham could still leave a 20-30 year wait if approved at all for an extension north of the Midlands.

It is believed that even if the high-speed rail link is approved, any development north of Birmingham would be 20 to 30 years away, if it is developed at all. Although not committing funding for the link, Mr Hoon said there was a "strong case" and the company would report back by the end of the year.

While it is a welcome move to start the moves towards High Speed it remains to be seen where the funding will come from and what happens if a change of government happens in the mean time. It does offer opportunities for Birmingham International Airport to act as an extra runway for London with a High Speed link connecting it to London in around 45 minutes. The Birmingham Post commented on the benefits that High Speed could offer Birmingham International last week.


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