HS2 betrayal of North can be blamed on David Cameron – Tom Richmond

DAVID Cameron has a lot to answer for as the country comes to terms with the legacy of his premiership more than four years after he skulked out of office.

He is, after all, the Prime Minister who lost the Brexit referendum and failed to neutralise the threat of Scottish independence which, to this day, risks the break-up of the UK.

And while Cameron and his cohorts deserve respect for the state of the debt-ridden economy they inherited from Labour in 2010, it still took four years for the concept of the Northern Powerhouse to even materialise.

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It is this which explains why the North is still having to fight for fairer funding from the successive governments as concerns grow that the eastern leg of HS2 to Sheffield and Leeds will be delayed or downgraded.

David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, launched HS2 in Leeds in 2014. Now the eastern leg of the high-speed line is under renewed threat.

This comes after I was reminded of a question that Kris Hopkins, the then Tory MP for Keighley, asked at Prime Minister’s Questions in 2012.

“Will the Government go ahead with High Speed 2? The project is extremely important to the economy and jobs in the North. If the answer is yes, I suggest we start laying the track in West Yorkshire first,” he ventured.

Cameron’s reply? “I am grateful for that enthusiastic endorsement. I believe that we should go ahead with HS2. It is important for the country’s economy, and it is important that we get on board this high-speed rail revolution.”

Full of Cameron-esque platitudes, it ignored the specific point that HS2 needed to start in the North, and increase rail capacity here, if it was to ever benefit the whole country.

This was David Cameron arriving in Leeds to launch HS2.

And it is the then PM’s failure to answer the question affirmatively, as he should have done, that has led to construction on the first leg of HS2 from London to Birmingham taking precedence while the link to Leeds, the city where Cameron and Cabinet launched high-speed rail in 2013 because of its significance and symbolism, remains in abeyance.

As such, it is even more important – as Covid continues to derail the national economy and Network Rail handed a £1bn budget cut which Ministers neglected to mention – that pressure is maintained for both HS2 and a new high-speed line across the Pennines which could also be delivered on the cheap if it bypasses Bradford to save costs.

After all, money appears to be still no object for major infrastructure schemes in London and the South East after Crossrail was given another £825m of funding.

The state-of-the-art new railway was due to open in December 2018, and its budget was set at £15.9bn in 2007.

David Cameron during his visit to Leeds to launch HS2.

Known as the Elizabeth Line, it will not now open until 2022 – the year of the Platinum Jubilee – and its cost had risen to £17.8bn before the latest bailout.

Transport Secretary (and Northern Powerhouse Minister) Grant Shapps tweeted that the money will “get the project up and running, and ensuring we continue to #BuildBackBetter across the whole country”.

Let’s make sure he’s as good as his word when it comes to high-speed rail in the North – and winning over the sceptics – after David Cameron chose, in another abiding failure, not to put this region on the HS2 fast track and better placed to attract future investment.

CALL me cynical, but the proposed locations for two Government ‘hubs’ outside of London smacks of election gerrymandering.

The Department for Transport is looking to create a second office in Wolverhampton while the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (plus sundry affairs) is eyeing a site in Birmingham, according to reports.

This seems more to do with the mayoral election in the West Midlands next May – former John Lewis boss Andy Street is trying to keep the key role in Tory hands – than any considered plan on where these civil servants will make the greatest difference.

Given Birmingham’s proximity to London, it makes far more sense for these ministries to be moving to Yorkshire and the North where the challenges are also greater. What’s stopping them? The intransigence of Whitehall mandarins whose reluctance to change makes the now defunct Pacer trains look high-speed by comparison.

MY observations last week about Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew pootling around the Commons, apparently busy doing nothing, prompted one of his colleagues to get in touch.

They noted Andrew, as deputy chief whip means, is basically in charge of Tory discipline and making sure backbenchers follow the Government’s line.

Judging by the size of this week’s Covid rebellion, he’s not even very effective at that – or making sure Ministers act on the concerns of Yorkshire’s MPs about the economic consequences of the new Tier arrangements.

One wouldn’t mind, as Andrew tries to sit as close as possible to the Prime Minister in the hope of being spotted, if he was scribbling down the observations of all MPs so they could be forwarded to the relevant officials. But that would be too much to ask – or expect.

STUART Andrew’s status means that he’s been known to deputise for Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg at the Despatch Box. He’s also been unable to curtail Rees-Mogg’s arrogance.

This week Rees-Mogg, the de facto Minister for Snobbery, lauded the Chancellor for providing £4bn “to support the economies of the Midlands and the North this Parliament”. Support? We’re not a charity case and we shouldn’t be having to get the begging bowl out.

The correct word should be ‘invest’ – if it’s not too much to ask for...

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