Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, has proved his pragmatism this morning by announcing in his conference speech that the planned high-speed rail route will after all follow the “Y-shaped” pattern proposed by his Labour predecessor Lord Adonis. This means the route (if it ever gets built) will split just north of Birmingham; with one route going up the west coast to Scotland and the other heading through Leeds to Newcastle.
It’s an interesting decision because it means Hammond is scrapping the alternative plan pushed by Theresa Villiers, who was the Tory transport spokesperson until the election. Villiers wanted to build an “S-shaped” route which would go up to Manchester and then switch back east to Leeds. It was an idea described by one of my contacts in the industry as “a nonsense”.
The Y-shaped route will be about £800m more costly but is expected to deliver much greater economic benefits. It will be included in a consultation on the £30bn high-speed rail plan, expected early next year. The bill for the London-Birmingham part of the route will be legislated during this parliament, the coalition hopes, despite fears that the consultation could drag on and delay the process.