The General Election will unleash a frenzy of promises from all parties stating their commitment to better transport in the North. We must therefore seize this opportunity to galvanise political support behind HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) ‘together, all the way, in full’ and in doing so we will realise enormous prosperity and transformational growth to towns, cities and communities across the North and beyond.
It is critical that our political leaders get behind plans. Earlier this month we heard worrying reports that the Oakervee Review, the panel tasked with reviewing HS2, may axe the Eastern arm from the Midlands up to Sheffield and Leeds. This means that the eastern part of the North of England would effectively be cut off and condemned to second-class status.
The Government must not break its promise to the North, it simply does not make economic sense. Recent analysis shows that over 60% of the economic benefits of HS2 in the North will be delivered on the Eastern arm. That translates to huge potential for a region of 13 million people.
To put that figure into context, the cities along the Eastern section of HS2 have a combined economy larger than that of Denmark. They are a serious economic force not just in the UK but in Europe and the world. Centres of manufacturing and specialist technology linked together through a high speed rail network that frees up local lines to deliver further and faster than ever before.
But with pressure from central Government to cut costs, we should be clear about the huge risks posed by axing HS2’s eastern arm: doing so would take away a whopping 50,000 future jobs in the wider Leeds City Region alone and cancel the projected £54bn economic gain.
Anyone running a business or household budget will agree: we should never be tempted to cut short-term costs if that means sacrificing long-term economic success.
The promise of HS2 is a promise made to the people of Britain, both in our globally connected cities and our proud towns, many of which have too often been left behind. People and places currently disconnected from each other will be brought together. HS2’s eastern arm will ensure that the city regions centred on Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, and Birmingham become a coherent, integrated economic zone larger than London. Over thirteen million people, six million jobs, and some of the UK’s most significant manufacturing and business clusters.
And already thousands of organisations and businesses have put together detailed plans for growth, expansion, and regeneration based on HS2 and wider rail and public transport investment. Businesses, investors, educational and other stakeholders in the public and private sectors are making decisions based on HS2’s arrival in the region. Pulling the plug would be devastating.
So what is being done about it? Leeds Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, as many as many of the Leeds City Region MPs have written to the Chair of the Review, urging him to recognise the body of evidence that supports the enormous economic benefits for our communities.
They are all united in their assessment that the Review into HS2 cannot ignore the economic, social, and environmental benefits it will bring to Leeds and the UK as a whole. We agree, this needs to be said loudly and clearly.
Of course, all involved in Northern politics and policy know that HS2 cannot be given a blank cheque. That is why Northern leaders have welcomed the Government’s Review. But rather than seeing HS2 as an isolated project it needs to be integrated into a nationwide rail strategy which includes Northern Powerhouse Rail. The North, linked with cities across the country, in a strategic, forward-thinking plan for our future prosperity.
To stop the Eastern route beyond Birmingham would be a broken promise too far. The current uncertainty must end. Citizens, public servants, businesses, and investors must all have absolute clarity that the Government is willing to support the North’s ambitions and deliver transformational change for millions of citizens.