The new chairman of HS2 has warned if the UK doesn’t build the high-speed rail project then it could be a disaster for the UK economy.
Sir David Higgins, who took up the post at the start of the year, has said he is surprised at the growing backlash against the estimated £50 billion project, but said it was “essential” to help rebalance the economy.
The controversial project, which has come under fire from both political sides, would link London to Birmingham by 2026, with tracks to cities including Leeds and Manchester built in a second phase, to be completed by 2032-33.
Speaking to the Financial Times Higgins also said his priorities were to build HS2 more quickly and to “get benefits to the north earlier”.
“The reason I took the job was the thought of not having a new railway line,” said Higgins. “I thought ‘oh my god, this might not happen’. What a disaster, not only for the railways, but for what it does to the country.
“People are thinking about what HS2 is as a railway, but we need to think about what it can do rather than what it is. It’s much more than just two tracks of metal. I think it’s essential, if you look at the challenge that the country has, we have a very unbalanced economy,” he said.
In a separate interview with BBC Radio 4 Today programme Higgins said he aims to deliver the project cheaper than estimated.
The projected cost of HS2 is £43 billion with the cost of trains estimated at £7 billion.
Higgins said: "The first thing I want to look at is the overall deliverability. Can we make it quicker? Can we get benefits to the north earlier? And then how can we deliver it most effectively? Hopefully that will deliver cost savings.
"There will be around the same amount of money spent every year on the existing network as will be spent on HS2 during this 20-year period.”
Higgins was appointed chairman of HS2 last September after successfully delivering the 2012 Olympic park on time and on budget, as chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority.
Last month a study by GTMC found the majority of business travellers backed HS2 with only 25% against the project.