SCOTTISH Ministers today set out the “utterly convincing” case for High Speed Rail to come to Scotland.
They also highlighted advice from the Scottish Partnership Group (SPG) which recommends that work in Scotland could actually start ahead of planned completion inEngland.
Addressing the ‘Making HS2 Happen’ conference inLondonthis afternoon, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment Alex Neil also provided more detail on the timetable for bringing forward planning for new high speed lines north of the border.
Mr Neil said they stood ready to begin preparatory work and quoted from advice provided by the Scottish Partnership Group for high speed rail, which looks at potential route and station options.
At the Conference – which included contributions from the UK Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening, Greengauge 21, and Passenger Focus – Mr Neil said: “Scotland invests heavily in its rail network and has a strong record in developing new lines. We have committed £1 billion on improvements on the Edinburgh-Glasgow route and are in the process of electrifying the core rail network between Edinburgh and Glasgow, reducing journey times and increasing the number of trains. We have also improved the Highland Line by adding three extra services which will lead to faster journeys.
“And we are absolutely convinced of the benefits of high speed rail. We are looking to bring forward planning for new high speed lines with the aim of linking them to the network proposed for England.
“The latest advice from the SPG suggests that construction in Scotland could begin in the shorter term. We would not be bound by the timings of the legislative processes of the UK Parliament, or by the constraints of proposed phasing of construction in England.
“However, it is essential that we work together in this regard, and that any new line is planned according to the criteria and assumptions directing development in England.
“For that reason we want to engage fully with HS2 Ltd, and agree terms for joint working, with the full support of the UK Government. The Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening is due to visit Scotland in the very near future, with planning for high speed rail expected to be high on the agenda. We look forward to making quick progress on this vital issue for Scotland’s economy.
“Let there be no doubt,Scotlandis ready to take its share of the hard work and stand together in its support for high speed rail. Leading business organisations, trade unions, local authorities and social groups are continuing to make a credible and persuasive case forScotland’s early inclusion in a UK high speed rail network. Their and our arguments are similar, we want better connectivity, and more trading links. Whilst we are eager to see it delivered as quickly as possible, we also want to recognise and balance private and public interests.
“However I believe strongly that there will also be benefits to our environment, this presents a real opportunity and if we don’t have high speed rail Scotland will undoubtedly be disadvantaged.
“High Speed Rail sits squarely with our two defining policy targets – to increase the rate of sustainable economic growth and develop a world-leading low carbon economy. Fast Track Scotland has calculated that high speed rail will generate economic benefits of £24 billion to Scotland, but only full high speed connections here will achieve the most significant carbon benefits.
“Remember that capacity is already constrained on routes toScotlandand the West Coast Main Line will be full in around a decade. We simply cannot afford to allow this to strangle future services to Scotland. HS2 is not about the value of shaving 25 minutes between here andBirmingham, it’s about building rail capacity that will benefit the whole of theUK. Planning must therefore includeScotlandfrom the very beginning – it is not acceptable to considerScotland’s requirements after the hybrid bill stages for London-Birmingham or Birmingham-Manchester andLeeds– that could be an entire generation away.”