Check your map, HS2 rail boss told – Bristol isn't the far South West
The new boss of the £50 billion north-south high-speed rail project has come under fire from a Westcountry MP for failing to explain how the far South West will benefit from so-called HS2.
Adrian Sanders, Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay, told Sir David Higgins, who is soon to take over as chairman of HS2 Ltd, that the far South West suffers the "slowest journey times and the highest fares".
And when Sir David argued Bristol is in line for massive rail investment, Mr Sanders threw back: "Bristol is the south Midlands to the far South West."
Mr Sanders serves on the cross-party Transport Select Committee, which has just grilled Sir David ahead of assuming the post.
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The MP has previously raised concerns over new high-speed trains between London and the north damaging the South West economy.
HS2 will be built between London and Birmingham, and later extend as far as Manchester and Leeds.
Meanwhile, 1970s trains will run between the capital and Penzance on the Great Western line, with new electric trains not going as far west as Bristol.
At the hearing, Mr Sanders asked: "How does connectivity help the far South West of England, which has some of the slowest journey times and the highest fares."
Sir David said: "HS2 is not a case of either-or. We will spend more money in the 20 years that HS2 will be built on the existing network – upgrading it – than we will on HS2. In Western, there is a £7 billion project which takes electrification to Cardiff and on to Swansea and the Valleys – at the moment to Bristol. That will bring line speed on a whole section on the western ..."
Mr Sanders interjected: "Can I stop you there and maybe ask you to look at a map and answer the question again. How does it help connectivity in the far South West?"
Sir David said the far South West would get more investment in the current and next rail spending round.
"What it does is mean its core route moving from the Thames Valley through to Bristol further south ...," he said before Mr Sanders stopped him again.
He said: "The far South West. Bristol is the south Midlands to the far South West."
Sir David, currently chief executive of Network Rail, which manages the track, said "major investment" was being ploughed into Bristol.
"That's where we stop when we carve off South West England at that point," he said. "Then we'll look at continual improvements."
He added ministers were considering proposals to shore up the line around Exeter following flooding last year that left the region marooned.
"That's just protecting existing connectivity," Mr Sanders added.
"That's not improving the connectivity of the area."
Sir David said it was vital that the cities of England realised the fantastic opportunity the scheme offered, adding that he was "not sure we have done the right job in explaining that to the communities".
Proponents argue Westcountry rail passengers will be able to change to get on the HS2 line north at a new station built at West London, from the Great Western line.