A POLITICAL consensus is building around the need for a new high-speed rail network connecting the North of England with London, a Yorkshire business audience was told.
Alison Munro, the chief executive of HS2 (High Speed Two) Ltd, told the CBI Yorkshire and Humber annual dinner that the planned high-speed network linking London and the North offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the region. HS2 has developed detailed proposals for the first phase of the route from London to the West Midlands, and the company is also working on plans to develop routes for a second phase, which would run to Manchester and Leeds.
According to HS2 Ltd, the system could secure more than 50,000 jobs in Yorkshire. Last month, HS2 Ltd said 55 Yorkshire companies had registered to attend conferences in London and Manchester in the hope of joining the supply chain for the massive civil engineering scheme. Contracts worth £10bn will be up for grabs through HS2.
Ms Munro told the dinner, held at Leeds University: “A project like High Speed Two is always going to be controversial. It’s the biggest infrastructure project in Europe and it’s impossible to do it without it being controversial.
“It is very expensive and that obviously provokes a debate about whether this is the best way of spending the money. However well we design it, and we try to design it with great care, we will have an impact on people where they will have to demolish the houses, and we will run past communities, and they will suffer some noise. There are always those sorts of challenges.
“But we’ve come an enormous way in the last year in terms of building consensus and cross-party support for High Speed Two and that was demonstrated recently.
“We have in Parliament a bill for the London to Birmingham phase, which is being considered. That key debate on the principle of High Speed Two was overwhelmingly positive.
“What was really interesting in that debate was how, for many of the MPs who spoke, their support was conditional on High Speed Two going beyond Birmingham. It’s getting the benefits to the Northern cities which is so important to so many MPs.
“Nevertheless, we’re moving towards an election next year and nothing can be absolutely guaranteed. We need to keep building on that support.”