High Speed 3? What about High Speed 4?

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What if a hypothetical HS4 project would better serve the economy? We have no way of knowing and that needs to change.
The parallels are striking.

In December 2009, just a few months before a General election, the Government published a proposal to create a new north-south high speed rail line, High Speed 2 (HS2).

In December 2014, just a few months before a General election, the Government is expected to publish a proposal to create a new east-west high speed rail line, High Speed 3 (HS3).

That announcement would follow on from an announcement today by Sir David Higgins, the Chair of HS2 Ltd, who was asked by the Chancellor to look at the economic case for an east-west link as part of his 'Northern Powerhouse' proposals.

The history of HS2 is a difficult one. Detailed proposals announced just weeks before Parliament went into recess ensured it became part of an intense General election campaign; this was followed by fierce opposition, challenges to the assessment, several consultations, numerous re-launches to refocus the debate and a judicial review or two.

Now the Bill for the first phase of the line (from London to Birmingham) is in the midst of committee hearings in Parliament to allow those with a direct private interest to seek amendments to the Bill.

It will not receive Royal Assent before the end of this Parliament. While the opposition have committed to the scheme should they win the next election, realistically this could change under certain circumstances.

HS2 and the announced HS3 proposal may both be good ideas, however we have no mechanism to judge whether or not these are the most pressing infrastructure requirements in the UK.

Within the context of strained public finances and the resources and time required to get a project to planning stage; having a clear idea about the most pressing challenges is important.

Significant progress has been made in how we plan infrastructure once a decision has been made. However, very little progress has been made in the stages before that – how we identify future infrastructure challenges.

What if a hypothetical HS4 project would better serve the economy? We have no way of knowing and that needs to change.

EEF's proposals for a UK Infrastructure Authority offers a way forward – by bridging a long term assessment of challenges with short term political realities.

Every five years, the Authority will be tasked with developing a National Infrastructure Assessment which would look ahead at the country's infrastructure needs over a 10, 20 and 50 year horizon at both national and regional levels. It would identify future challenges and trends, and would also outline when political decisions will need to be made.

The public, businesses, political parties and others will then be consulted on the long term assessments and invited to submit their own ideas for projects. Just as with the current Airports Commission, the final decision would be taken by the Government of the day.

Such a small change could be a potential game changer and, combined with the improved method of delivering infrastructure projects, would see the UK leading the world in having a system to identify, plan and deliver infrastructure to deliver a more productive, competitive and environmentally sustainable economy.

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This person has now left EEF. Please contact us on 0808 168 1874 or email us at enquiries@eef.org.uk if you have any questions.

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