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HS2: Boris Johnson gives high speed rail project green light, appoints minister to oversee project

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HS2: Boris Johnson gives high speed rail project green light, appoints minister to oversee project
Copyright  AP Photo/Matt Dunham   -   Matt Dunham
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light to a controversial high-speed rail project connecting London to the Midlands.

He said that "no matter how difficult and controversial", he plans to restore discipline and appoint a minister to oversee it.

Johnson said that "poor management to date" had not detracted from the "fundamental value of the project".

Phase one of the rail project, High Speed 2 (HS2), was greenlit in 2017 and connects London to Birmingham. Phase Two would see it branch with one line going to Crewe and Manchester and another to Leeds.

The previous government under Johnson said in September that the project would cost roughly £20 billion more than proposed in 2015 and that the project would be delayed for several years.

Some have said it will cut travel time between the UK's capital and northern England but those who oppose the project have said that it would be better to use existing rail to connect northern cities.

Johnson told the Commons on Tuesday that there would be local improvements including investments in existing rail networks across northern England.

But, the UK prime minister said, the changes could not be made in isolation from HS2 and said it would be the spine for further rail improvements.

Criticism of the plan

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the government's funding plans for the project, stating that the Conservatives had picked policies from the "Labour manifesto" but "underfunded them".

Johnson endorsed the high-speed project last year, stating that he would like to be the prime minister who does with "Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did with Crossrail in London".

Green MP Caroline Lucas criticised HS2, stating that they would destroy woodlands and said that the government figures show that the plan will not cut government figures.

And not everyone in Johnson's party supports the plan.

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant, who is on the HS2 review group, said earlier: “I think people in years to come will look back on this project and just say they could have done it so much better.”

Fabricant said in the Commons that he was not happy that HS2 did not connect with other train services such as Eurostar.

"Every great infrastructure project" is "opposed by the people at this stage", Johnson said, repeating that they needed the "guts" to continue it. Another conservative MP, Andrew Bridgen, said that the project adversely affected his constituents and asked if it set the bar low for future projects.

Nonetheless, Johnson worked to assure several of the Conservative backbenchers that those affected by the project would receive compensation and he apologised for the uncertainty around the project.

Oakervee review

A new review of the high-speed rail project commissioned by the prime minister was released.

Civil engineer Douglas Oakervee, in the review, said the costs of the project could be 15 to 20% higher than was originally planned.

The revised schedule expects that phase one from London to Birmingham could be delayed from 2026 to between 2028 and 2031.

"The ability to reduce carbon emissions in the construction of Phase One may be limited so focus should be placed on improving plans for Phase Two in this regard in particular," the review states.

The review states that train journey times between the cities connected will be reduced by between 38 and 56%.

Oakervee states that there needs to be more integration between northern rail lines and the HS2 Limited company to understand the local impact and to improve regional transport.