Time to move past the self-centred opposition to HS2 - Mark Casci

With the Prime Minister scheduled as guest speaker it was somewhat inevitable that his remarks across a range of topics were the principal focus of coverage of the Convention of the North event in Rotherham.

HS2 is a hot topic
HS2 is a hot topic

Boris Johnson may have found his first few weeks defined almost exclusively by the interminable debate over Brexit (a debate of which he is a significant progenitor I might add).

But one can certainly not accuse of him of having ignored the Yorkshire region since he became Prime Minister, having visited three times since his victory in the Tory leadership contest.

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We have seen much in the way of promises, with Mr Johnson manifestly on an election footing ahead of a likely poll before the end of the year.

HS2 is a hot topic

Brexit excites tempers but the colour of our passports will certainly not be enough to persuade all voters.

Hence why Mr Johnson has so far had warm words for Yorkshire devolution and vowed to tackle our nation’s burgeoning social care crisis.

Perhaps above all, his having made clear his backing for much needed high speed rail across the North is the most important of his pronouncements.

You will struggle to find much opposition to Northern Powerhouse Rail in Yorkshire. Rail services running from East to West in Northern England have not been fit for purpose for decades and are getting worse, in spite of the risible claims from former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling about current investment levels being at the highest since the Steam Age, a claim rubbished by even the Cabinet Office at the time.

Northern Powerhouse Rail enjoys huge support

However I fear that once we get this commitment enshrined in law that there is the risk that the project will slide down the road of the HS2 project.

The scheme to build high speed rail between the North and London has been talked about for more than a decade. There is sizeable opposition from the Home Counties and opposition to the scheme there is an easy vote winners for MPs in that part of the world.

And of course there is to be disruption in our region too if it does go ahead, with families in South Yorkshire likely to be the most affected.

Disruption and infrastructure projects go hand in hand.

Gerald Jennings had his say on HS2 opposition last week

But the chief problem with HS2 is the cost, currently running north of an eye-watering £50bn, and the timetable of work.

Those in favour of HS2 often struggle with this. It is such a vast sum of money and when the easy comparisons are made for what it could be elsewhere spent on the job becomes harder.

Likewise the decade long wait for any sort of meaningful work taking place is hard to justify, particularly when comparable schemes have been built a far faster rate abroad.

HS2 is now the subject of the Oakervee review. While I find it unlikely that the scheme will be scrapped there is a chance there will be recommendations that its costs be curtailed.

A more fiscally efficient programme of work, and one which is delivered on a more reasonable timetable would be one I welcome.

However, we must in my opinion make sure HS2 delivers on its mission of delivering higher speed rail connectivity between London and the North, something which will deliver a massive boon to the economy, act as a springboard to Northern Powerhouse Rail and help the environment by taking freight off the road network.

I drew huge comfort from the considered words of West and North Yorkshire chamber chairman Gerald Jennings in The Yorkshire Post last week.

With his typical polemic yet fair style, he wrote: “When I hear naysayers say they’ll be long gone by the time HS2 arrives I like to remind them it’s not just about them.

It’s about the next and future generations. Let’s move on from a rather self-absorbed if not selfish attitude of “it’s all about me”. If we don’t start now we’ll never get there!”

He is of course absolutely right. Let’s crack on and deliver a better future for Yorkshire’s young. God knows they have been let down enough already.