WHILE HS2 will bring faster journey times to London and this is welcome, that in itself is not the reason for backing it.
Construction of the line is predicted to create thousands of new jobs but again, welcome as that will be, it is not the real reason for building the line.
What this is really about is providing a high quality rail service with the capacity to meet the needs of the next generation.
Our present rail infrastructure was laid out in the Victorian age to meet Victorian needs.
In the past 20 years the number of journeys made on Britain’s rail network has doubled. It is forecast to increase by over 30 per cent in the next decade.
Trains are already overcrowded at peak times and this will only get worse.
There is an inevitable drift of businesses moving to London and the South East and this trend will continue.
But you can’t put all the UK’s businesses in the South as if you do so, the cost of housing and congestion will make London, already one of the most expensive cities in the world, uncompetitive on an international stage.
With HS2 and the excellent connectivity it will provide we can make not just Leeds but all the surrounding locations on the HS2 route attractive and cost-effective options to attract businesses to locate.
So what this is really about is jobs and prosperity in the North for the next generation.
I believe that to achieve the full benefits of HS2, existing connections between cities in the Leeds City Region must be significantly upgraded.
We must ensure that businesses and individuals throughout the wider city region can enjoy seamless connection to HS2 from their local stations.
This will require careful planning for the HS2 station and preparatory investment in the regional network.
Leeds is already working to deliver the massive development potential of the Leeds South Bank area which is already home to the Royal Armouries Museum, the Tetley, Asda’s UK HQ and Leeds City College’s new campus.
Further development will bring Leeds College of Building and the Ruth Gorse Academy to the area, as well as the new generation trolley bus and an eight-and-a-half acre park.
Bring into this mix the new HS2 station and there is the opportunity to achieve truly transformational positive change.
This needs detailed planning and investment.
The timetable outlined in Sir David Higgins’ recent report suggests that a start should be made on the delivery of the Leeds HS2 station three years earlier than originally planned, so there is much to do before then.
Members of the Leeds Property Forum are pleased to be working with key members of the Leeds City Council team to plan and deliver the necessary work.
This includes establishing the optimum location of the HS2 station and how it will be connected to the Leeds City Station, as well as assisting in providing a planning framework which will support the full regeneration of the Leeds South Bank area which is set to be the location of the city’s HS2 station.
But we cannot afford to be complacent. There is always a risk that projects of this sort can be cancelled by new Governments looking to save money.
The business case for investing in HS2 Phase One to Birmingham and also for investing in the western leg to Manchester have been strongly made.
But the council leadership, the private sector and members of Parliament representing the cities along the eastern leg of Phase Two leading to Leeds must not only speak with one unified voice in pressing for delivery of the scheme at the earliest date, but must also plan effectively together to maximise the economic benefit of delivering the line.
Members of the Leeds Property Forum are already playing a key role in this process and are keen to do more.
In my view, HS2 represents the best chance we are likely to get for delivering the true ambition of Leeds to become a leading European city.
We must take the initiative and move forward with plans to secure regeneration activity in the short term.
We must also ensure that the Leeds City Region has a rail network which can take maximum benefit from the arrival of HS2.
Andrew Latchmore is chair of the Leeds Property Forum.