QUITE rightly, the Prime Minister has made a clear and historic commitment to ‘level up’ the country, not least by addressing the historic under-investment in the North and Midlands.
As such, we and over 30 Conservative MPs representing seats in Yorkshire, the North-West and the Midlands have written to the Prime Minister calling on him to deliver the full HS2 network so that it reaches and connects the great cities and towns we represent.
It is clearly a concern that the likely costs of HS2 are estimated by the National Audit Office at £88bn, up significantly on a like-for-like basis from the original figure of £56bn. However, according to the analysis commissioned by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, this still represents a return on investment of over £2 for every £1 invested, giving a bigger payback than the London-based projects such as the Jubilee Line extension and Thameslink.
We regularly receive correspondence from constituents who have to stand on our peak time trains and this situation will only get worse. The UK population is growing at a rate of around 300,000 per annum, so there will be more than 70 million people living here by 2030.
Some argue that the money would be better invested in our existing Victorian rail network in the shape of longer platforms and trains. Even if this was a workable alternative, the disruption would be catastrophic. Most of the chaos caused on Trans-Pennine routes came as a result of similar engineering works – multiply this 10-fold and extend the disruption for a decade and you may have an idea of how disruptive this would be.
As the HS2 North Report, published by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership in October 2019 articulates, HS2 is not simply a means of getting to London more quickly. It is vitally important to increase capacity on lines in and out of the capital, but also between Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and wider Northern towns and cities as well as other major regional economic centres such as Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow. From Birmingham it takes just under two hours to get to Leeds and almost an hour and a half to Manchester. This would be reduced to 49 minutes and 40 minutes respectively. A super-connected North or Midlands is not as powerful unless it is super-connected to the rest of UK.
Nowhere is the need to level up many of our constituencies felt more acutely, day-in-day-out, than on our train network. The North and Midlands have not seen any major investment in new, purpose-built infrastructure to connect our towns and cities since the Victorian era. Our constituents now have to endure heavily-congested trains which are far too often cancelled or significantly delayed. This is a major barrier to business growth and restricts the opportunities available to our businesses after leaving the EU.
The UK must demonstrate its ability to ‘Get Projects Done’. Many of our international counterparts, Germany, Japan and France, are continuing to invest in low-carbon, high-connectivity modern rail schemes to tackle climate change and to meet increasing demand. We must do the same.
We welcome the commitment the Prime Minister made in the first few days of his premiership to the first part of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), linking Leeds and Manchester. We now need confirmation of the full delivery of NPR from East Coast to West Coast and to the second phases of HS2. These projects are vital to the future prosperity of the Northern Powerhouse, and have the potential to transform this country, as does the Midlands Rail Hub as supported by West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street.
It has been suggested we should choose between these projects, but businesses large and small right across the North and Midlands would see this as betrayal. After decades of under-investment, trading off the interests of Crewe and Carlisle to benefit Warrington and Bradford would be a strategic mistake. We need an integrated network that will benefit all our constituents, from Birmingham to Manchester to Leeds to the Borderlands and into Scotland.
An integrated NPR and HS2 would deliver a major economic boost to the UK. Economic growth scenarios point to a potential aggregate gross value added prize for the North of £1,008bn between 2035 and 2050. If transport investment unlocks just 10 per cent of this prize, it would deliver an additional £100bn. Twenty per cent of the benefits of NPR are delivered from the long-distance journeys on the HS2 network. In addition, across the HS2 route locally-led growth plans will add almost 500,000 jobs and nearly 90,000 new homes from the improved connectivity HS2 services will provide.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘level up’ the places we represent, so future generations grow up with no ceiling to their prosperity and opportunity.
Kevin Hollinrake is Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton while Andrew Percy represents Brigg and Goole.