Fault lines in HS3 blueprint

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THERE ARE already many business leaders who contend that improvements to trans-Pennine transport between Leeds and Manchester are as important to the North’s economy as the HS2 high-speed railway from London to Yorkshire.

THERE ARE already many business leaders who contend that improvements to trans-Pennine transport between Leeds and Manchester are as important to the North’s economy as the HS2 high-speed railway from London to Yorkshire.

This argument clearly underpinned Chancellor George Osborne’s keynote speech yesterday when he floated the idea of building a high-speed railway between Leeds and Manchester that is already known as HS3.

He’s right in principle. Even though these two great cities are just 40 or so miles apart, the rail links are antiquated and are certainly putting a brake on the ability of people to travel across the Pennines to seek better career opportunities.

The negative is that this appears to be a speech that is motivated by the timing of the next general election and concerns that the Tories are out of touch with the North. This is certainly borne out by the lack of detail in the speech. If HS3 so important, why is it not a component part of the high-speed rail plan currently being advanced – or part of the Northern Hub being created to improve train services between major cities in the region?

The questions do not end here. Though the speech talked about high-speed rail between Leeds and Manchester, a significant section was devoted to the length of time that it takes to travel from Sheffield to Manchester. How will these journey times be reduced?

And then there is a matter of cost. No mention was made of this, even though this is the issue that is exercising the public over HS2. It was a regrettable omission.

For, if the business case is so compelling, why did Mr Osborne, a supposedly radical Tory chancellor, shy away from the discussion about the opportunities for overseas investors to build the new line?

Yes, it is welcome that the Chancellor has acknowledged Yorkshire’s untapped economic potential – but he now needs to come up with a more robust plan to get trans-Pennine rail services back on track.

Mayoral moves

Should electorate be bypassed?

THE questions over the merit behind George Osborne’s vision to turn the North into an “economic powerhouse” are not exclusive to HS3. They are equally applicable to his call to create elected mayors in major cities so Leeds and Sheffield, for example, can have their equivalent to London’s Boris Johnson.

However the Chancellor’s enthusiasm for this idea appears to overlook one critical point: voters in Leeds, Sheffield and seven other cities rejected this notion in referendum votes in May 2012 because the case for reform was not compelling enough, not least on whether this new tier of bureaucracy would increase – or reduce – the cost of local government.

If the Chancellor believes that city mayors need more radical powers so they can provide even more substantive leadership than the present arrangements, why is this offer only being made now? Why was it not made prior to the 2012 elections?

It would be remiss not to point out this Government’s willingness to devolve power to the regions, even if Mr Osborne has not implemented Lord Heseltine’s reforms in full. London does not always know best. And, yes, there should be greater accountability of the myriad of bodies now delivering transport, regeneration and skills policy – those in charge of large sums of taxpayers’ money should be prepared to face far more scrutiny than at present.

But the issue is how this can be achieved when voters have already rejected the Chancellor’s notion and will not take kindly to their wishes being circumvented.

Tractor triumph

Wi-fi ingenuity is a Tour winner

an UNMISTAKABLE symbol of the countryside, how very Yorkshire that two tractors are being given a hi-tech makeover so they can emit free wi-fi coverage to campers who will be pitching up for the opening stages of the Tour de France.

Proof that the famous adage “where there’s muck there’s brass” still rings true in these parts, it is a typically inventive solution to the practical problem of mobile phone coverage and should be applauded for its ingenuity.

Perhaps the National Farmers’ Union, in conjunction with tractor manufacturer Massey Ferguson and satellite broadband company Avonline, will sow the seeds of success with this venture.

If it works and sufficient people benefit from the new wi-fi hotspots, is this the way forward so more rural residents can enjoy better internet access – long after the Tour peloton has left Yorkshire for more familiar terrain? For, unlike many of those irritating blots on the landscape, what is there to dislike about a tractor?