I WISH to address just one issue in respect of levelling up: HS2. Nothing is more important to levelling up this country than transforming its infrastructure.
The single biggest infrastructure project in the country at the moment, directly geared to levelling up, is HS2, which will transform the communications in this country between Greater London and the South-East, the Midlands and the north.
The Minister (Lord Greenhalgh) knows a great deal about HS2. When he was leader of his local authority and I was Secretary of State for Transport, we talked about it a great deal.
Indeed, we planned together the development of the Old Oak Common interchange station, which will bring HS2 in direct connection with Crossrail, which goes from east to west. The connectivity between those two will further transform the connections between the Midlands and northern cities and London.
I wish to ask the noble Lord about one specific issue: the decision that is widely known, though I do not think that it has yet been formally announced, to cancel the eastern leg of HS2.
At the 11th hour, as it were, I implore the Minister to revisit that decision and speak to his friend the Prime Minister, with whom I know he has an extremely close relationship, to make the argument that, if the eastern leg of HS2 is cancelled, the whole future of levelling up half of the country – the eastern side – will be vitiated.
To understand the significance of the potential cancellation of the eastern leg of HS2, you just need to consider what will be the journey times between the major cities of the Midlands and the North and London after HS2, if it is not built.
Birmingham to London would be half an hour, Manchester to London would be an hour, Leeds and Sheffield to London would be two hours, and Newcastle to London would be three hours.
Where is all the investment and the new social activity in the country going to happen if, for the next few centuries – because we build railway lines to last centuries – that is the pattern of communications between the Midlands and the North of this country and the economic powerhouse of London, which will always continue to be so because it is our dominant city? It is absolutely essential that the eastern leg of HS2 proceeds.
Because we are a democratic community, with very powerful political spokespeople from the eastern side of the country, it is stark staring obvious that, if, by an act of great negligence, Her Majesty’s Government do not proceed with the eastern leg of HS2 now, when the leg to Manchester opens and there is a massive political controversy about the delayed journey times, much poorer communications, much lower capacity and lack of connectivity with Crossrail, the political campaign to build the eastern leg will be unrelenting.
In a classic failure of planning, we will build the eastern leg of HS2 and it will go through to Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle, but it will be done 30 or 40 years later than it should have been. In that interval, an enormous amount of damage will be done to the society and the economy in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East of the country.
I implore the noble Lord, with the great influence that I know he holds with the Prime Minister, to urge him to revisit this decision, which could be the single most important decision that the Government make in terms of the long-term capacity to level up the north with the south of this country.
IN response, Lord Greenhalgh said: “I do not know the situation on the eastern leg. My understanding is that the integrated rail plan, for which I do not have a publication date, will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects, will work to deliver the transport we need in the future.
“That date has not been set, so I cannot provide any more information on that.”
Andrew Adonis is a Labour peer who launched HS2 when Transport Secretary.
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