IT is apropos that Boris Johnson should bring his Cabinet to the North on a historic day that will culminate with Britain leaving the European Union at 11pm.
This, after all, is a region that voted to leave the EU in part because it felt disconnected from the decisions being taken in Westminster and Brussels.
And the Prime Minister should now have the confidence and conviction to put high-speed rail at the centre of a programme for national renewal.
As Ministers reappraise the cost of HS2 following a necessary, and timely, review, The Yorkshire Post urges them to seize the moment and relaunch Europe’s largest infrastructure project as the ‘British Bullet’.
A statement of intent, it challenges the negativity which risks derailing this scheme – and repeating the scandalous short-sightedness of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s – when the need to increase rail capacity across the UK has never been greater or more urgent.
The ‘British Bullet’ should be seen as a long-term investment in the country’s future infrastructure and prosperity that is funded by successive governments rather than a drain on current budgets.
The ‘British Bullet’ should be the driving force behind a rail revolution which sees the entire network overhauled, former Beeching lines reopened and new regional routes, like Northern Powerhouse Rail and planned East Coast Main Line spur to Doncaster Sheffield Airport, accelerated.
And the ‘British Bullet’, as our name suggests, should also come to represent the very best of UK exceptional engineering and industrial ingenuity if the PM applies his trademark gusto.
Its construction – and cost – avoids up to three decades of disruption to existing rail lines, the price of scaling back HS2, but it has the economic power to transform manufacturing for the long-term.
As the UK is liberated from EU procurement rules, Yorkshire’s renown for steel, R&D and green energy can – and should – be used to galvanise a jobs and skills revolution, particularly in areas still scarred by the demise of traditional manufacturing industries, that will help to drive the North’s economy forward for decades to come.
The problem is that HS2 was mis-sold from the outset – the key argument should have been capacity rather than reduced journey times – and that this allowed recent governments to be sidetracked and lose sight of the prevailing need to improve transport connectivity across the country.
Yet, as Professor Keith Ridgway, the founding father of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, wrote in this newspaper recently, there is now a once-in-a-generation chance to maximise “untold opportunities” that exist “for the young engineers and innovators of the future” if a way can be found to replicate the AMRC’s successs elsewhere.
Building on the existing HS2 college in Doncaster, his vision – “Made in Britain: Made in the North” – is a compelling one that should be readily embraced by the Government. He is also precisely the type of internationally-acclaimed innovator from this region whose insight could help to turn the ‘British Bullet’ into a lasting source of national and international pride.
Nearly two centuries after the Middleton Railway in Leeds witnessed the first commercial use of a steam locomotive, now is the time for the country which invented the railway to fire up the ‘British Bullet’ – using, of course, steel forged in Yorkshire, the very latest green energy and local labour wherever possible – and show to the world that the UK is back on track.