BUCKS Herald reorter Andrew Kay spoke to HS2 Ltd’s chief executive Alison Munro. These are the answers he was given.
BH: Some critics do not believe that 18,000 people an hour will travel from London to Birmingham. Would you consider having more stops to potentially increase passenger numbers?
AM: The government consulted last year on the key elements of the proposals for HS2 and that set out the Government’s conclusion that there should not be an intermediate station. We did have some responses back through the consultation asking the Government to reconsider that. We did reconsider and came to the same conclusions. We are not expecting to reopen that question now.
BH: If minds have already been made up, it sounds as though the critics who claim these forums are merely ‘box ticking exercises’ are correct.
AM: In terms of the route we did listen to what people said and we have significantly improved the route compared to the consultation route. So for example in the Chilterns we have extended the tunnel, we put in extra green tunnel. So we have done quite a lot already to improve the route. That is evidence that we have actually listened. Going forward what we are now talking about is how we can further refine that route and improve it, looking in more detail that we were able to before.
BH: But there is not much money to fund the mitigation. It sounds like you are saying ‘we will listen and do what we can as long as it doesn’t cost us too much’?
AM: Quite a lot of this will be part of the core design of the railway. Although we have mentioned a pot of £250 million, that’s for things that aren’t really part of the basic design, for example if we had to replace some community facilities. A lot of this can be accommodated through the design as we go forward. For example where we have got the line in cutting we can use the spoil that comes out of those cuttings to landscape other bits of the route.
BH: Is money being wasted by those campaigning against the plans and bringing judicial reviews?
AM: Obviously that is up to them to decide. The Government has made clear that it thinks this should happen. The Government has also indicated that it believes the way it approached its decision was absolutely robust and it will strongly defend any challenges. I think the really important thing is that whether they oppose it or not, we hope they will engage with us.
BH: Isn’t that just a way to help you move the project forward?
AM: They can do both. They can oppose it whilst still engaging with us on if it’s going to happen what is it going to be like – on a without prejudice basis so they get the best possible solution for the local area.