Confirmation that HS2 is to go ahead raises fundamental questions about the way in which every other railway revival project around the country is treated in future, given that the traditional economic case for HS2 has always been distinctly questionable.
Campaigners have spent years, and in many cases decades, in trying to bring rails back to a host of places around the country that include Wisbech, Portishead, Keswick, Skipton-Colne, Tavistock-Okehampton, Fleetwood, Ashington and Uckfield-Lewes.
What they are all faced with is going through the hoops of the Network Rail-developed GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) process, to manage and control investment projects.
NR says it was developed “in order to minimise and mitigate the risks associated with delivering such projects”, but in reality the eight-stage process is a recipe for endless delay and prevarication, and for a never-ending upward spiral in costs.
HS2 teaches us that a project which for years we were assured would cost £56 billion, and even at that price had a marginal benefit:cost ratio, is still deemed economically worthwhile after a near-certain doubling in price.
The Government made promises about railway revivals in its election manifesto, and recently pledged a pump-priming £500m to support evaluation of revivals to Fleetwood and Ashington. As many have already pointed out, it won’t go far, but it is a start.
Now is the time for a bold new approach in the wake of HS2. A Government which can press the button on such a vast undertaking, and is also looking at building a bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland, needs to streamline the whole process of re-openings.
If a local community deems a particular revival scheme desirable, and it secures local and regional political support, then let’s cut through the existing GRIP process, instead of spending years, and untold millions in consultancy fees, with output definition (GRIP 1); feasibility (GRIP 2); option selection (GRIP 3); single option development (GRIP 4).
Instead let’s just go straight to detailed design (GRIP 5), taking years and millions of pounds out of the whole cost of a re-opening project. Then the project’s promoters can go to Government and ask them to be consistent with the precedent set by HS2, by simply handing over a blank cheque to cover the scheme’s total cost.
To paraphrase the Prime Minister’s election message, and words of a song, let’s do it!