ONE million jobs are under threat if the Government does not build a high-speed rail network connecting London with the North, according to new research which warns that without it Britain also risks being left behind by its competitors.
Experts say the planned £32bn project would transform the economies of the eight major city regions outside of London, closing the North-South divide and generating more than quarter of a million jobs in Yorkshire alone.
However, the Department for Transport is locked in a fierce battle with campaign groups along the first stage of the line, from London to Birmingham through Tory heartlands in the Chilterns and rural Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire. A number of party donors have threatened to pull their funding if the line is built.
The latest research, complied by engineering firm Arup and economics consultancy Volterra, claims one million jobs rely on the support of the Government‘s investment in high-speed rail. It states that 400,000 jobs could be created in core cities outside London – Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham.
The report found there could be substantial regeneration benefits along the first stage of the line alone, including 15,000 homes and 70,000 jobs estimated to be worth £4.4bn per year.
The chairman of Volterra, Bridget Rosewell, said: “Our transport system cannot keep up with the growing demand by businesses for domestic and international travel and the only way of delivering hundreds of thousands of travellers to city centres each day is by train.
“Retro-fitting our existing network is uneconomic, disruptive and fails to meet the demand. That is why a new national high-speed rail network is critical to Britain’s future economic prosperity.”
The Yorkshire Post campaign Fast Track to Yorkshire has been calling for a direct route from the region to the capital – a plan now supported by the Government, which has put forward a Y-shape route that splits after Birmingham, travelling east through South Yorkshire and Leeds and west towards Manchester.
The Government has launched a national consultation process and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond this week urged supporters to make their voices heard before the Friday deadline for responses.
Volterra’s research warns the UK risks being left behind by international competitors if the investment is not made – Britain ranks only 34th in the world for its infrastructure and sixth in the G8 group. The UK only spends 1.5 per cent of GDP on infrastructure, half that of France.
It states that British businesses need a significant investment in inter-city transport infrastructure to reach new markets and recruit the best people, and that firms in the North will be hardest hit if this is not carried out.
High speed rail will encourage economic growth in the core cities by up to three per cent, it says.
The leader of Sheffield City Council, Julie Dore, said: “High speed rail is key to delivering a better balanced national economy, supporting the economic future of our cities. Backtracking on high-speed rail would be a massive step backwards for job creation in Sheffield.”
The leader of Leeds City Council, Keith Wakefield, said: “We need this investment to provide jobs and training opportunities, particularly for this city’s young people, and to tackle what is a growing economic divide between the North and South.
“Improving transport links between Leeds and other cities will create sustainable, long-term economic growth in the North.”