THERE is little doubt that our region’s current rail network is full, unfit for purpose and in need of new investment now.
However the case for short-term increased investment must not overshadow our campaign for longer-term investment in HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR). Yorkshire should not have to choose between these – we need and deserve both.
Over the last 10 years, transport spending in Yorkshire averages £298 per person. In London, it is £793. Future planned spending is even worse, Yorkshire receiving just £511 per person compared to £3,636 in London, and a £1,564 national average.
The Government must commit to HS2 “all the way”. The HS2 eastern route to Leeds, and delivering NPR “in full”, will bring enormous transformational growth for Leeds, Manchester, and Northern towns and cities. HS2 and NPR are vital to unlocking our growth potential and Leeds, the wider city region and Yorkshire all stand to gain.
The Leeds City Region, businesses, investors and other stakeholders all have plans for economic growth, regeneration and development based on HS2’s arrival and wider rail and public transport investment, with a projected £54bn economic gain.
An integrated HS2 connection to Sheffield and Birmingham and NPR west towards Bradford, via Manchester to Liverpool, is a catalyst for growth across the UK.
HS2’s eastern leg will level the UK’s economic geography and must happen at the same time as HS2 West. It will bring together Northern city regions into an economic zone larger than London – 13 million people, six million jobs and some of the UK’s major manufacturing and business clusters.
The last time we built railway infrastructure for Leeds and the North was 170 years ago, yet two great Yorkshire cities of Leeds and Sheffield are currently only served by an average 36mph connection. How much longer will we be forced to rely on Victorian infrastructure to underpin our 21st century economy?
Leeds Station is the North’s busiest transport hub, its use growing by 214 per cent in 20 years and now serving 34 million people annually – and it is still growing. Our new gateway will help unlock billions of pounds of private and public sector investment, creating tens of thousands of jobs and, critically, allow more local, regional and national trains to serve people reliably.
HS2 is the only credible plan, and is substantially developed, to also address East Coast Main Line capacity. It is one of the UK’s worst performing routes, and Leeds Station is one of the worst for rail crowding at peak times. HS2 will deliver capacity to allow more local and regional services to run – and on time.
Leeds City Region is developing its international reputation for high speed rail expertise, with the University of Leeds’s Institute of High Speed Rail Systems Integration due to commence imminently. Many businesses are also currently benefiting from HS2 or stand to do so. Cancelling the eastern leg would have a greater impact than is recognised in terms of economic prosperity and opportunities available to local people – now and in the future.
The climate emergency reinforces HS2’s case if we are to create a zero carbon economy. HS2 allows for 144 extra freight trains daily, carrying 2.5 million lorries’ worth of cargo each year. Transporting by rail produces 76 per cent less carbon emissions than by road, so there are huge environmental benefits.
This is also why Leeds would like to see the benefits of HS2 delivered sooner rather than later, and emphasises the need for HS2 to be better integrated into a nationwide rail strategy. Without this, our current proposals such as HS2, TransPennine Upgrades and NPR are not seen as fundamental strategic network investments.
We appreciate HS2’s challenges but much can be learnt from HS1. Though controversial, it would be difficult to argue against its economic benefits. However, we recognise that residents and businesses will be impacted and we will continue to support them to receive fair compensation from the Government.
HS2 and NPR must be delivered together. They are once-in-a-century transformational growth projects, delivering capacity and predictability on our rail network, providing further opportunities and jobs for our people and businesses, and supplying the infrastructure to level the UK economy.
With HS2, Leeds is key to unlocking the North’s potential. Our city is ready to do just that.
Judith Blake is the leader of Leeds City Council. She is a Labour councillor.