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Sir David at the Transport Select Committee

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The Financial Times reported that the man credited with getting the UK’s proposed high-speed rail line back on track threatened to walk away in 15 months’ time if the next government failed to back his vision. Sir David Higgins made clear he would not sign a contract extension as chairman of HS2 beyond 2015 unless his demands for funding and political support were met.

It was a surprising statement given that despite the enormous controversy surrounding the project, the support of the three main parties at Wesminster continues. However, HS2 remains vulnerable to further cuts in public spending as politicians struggle to cut the deficit.

Asked by MPs on the Commons Transport Committee on Monday how long he would continue in the job, he said his two-year contract ran until January 2016. An extension “is not in my gift”, he said, before adding: “I want to see what progress we make in the next calendar year. I would want to see that the government would carry forward [the plans].

“The greatest challenge is keeping the continuity and momentum over the next 12 months. We all know the pressure being put on departmental budgets.”

He made clear a budget settlement after the general election in May covering the period to 2020 would be key to his decision.

Sir David’s comment that initially weak support in the north “has changed substantially in the last 9-12 months”, was extraordinary. The latest YouGov poll conducted last month showed the great majority of the public were opposed to HS2, especially in the North with 26% of respondents for the project and 53% against.

Sir David’s appreance before the Transport Select Committee came hot on the heels of the news that Euston Development Director Rupert Walker told a meeting in October that designs could not be made to work as there was no business case, and that to make the business case for the Euston station rebuild, more development would have to be included. It was also revealed that there were also unresolved issues concerning the operation of trains during construction.

No wonder Sir David is keeping an eye on the exit door.

51m

18 November

 

 

 

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