THIS week we launched Connecting Britain, a coalition of political and business leaders who have come together, with one voice, to make a positive case for why Yorkshire, the North and UK Plc need HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) with a station in central Bradford, delivered together, in full.
We have always been clear on the wider value of HS2. But we are also clear that the greatest possible value to the North will only be realised if HS2 is delivered with a revolution in east-west rail connectivity. Together, HS2 and NPR can have a transformational impact.
After decades of underinvestment in strategic rail infrastructure, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail combined represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to attract investment, boost skills and opportunity and level-up communities across the North, and beyond.
Now is a really important time for this campaign. With a new government in place, a review of HS2 in progress and election imminent, we want to demonstrate the strength of the economic case and the unified commitment in the North for the full and timely delivery of HS2 in lock-step with NPR and other much-needed infrastructure projects.
Everyone in the North knows that we have been short-changed for years on transport investment.
I was pleased that during his election campaign the Prime Minister committed to levelling-up the economy and to bringing forward a new railway line between Leeds and Manchester.
However, there is still too much talk in some quarters of abolishing HS2, a project which can support a real renewal in our towns and local communities. That’s also why we reject the ‘either, or’ proposition. After decades of under-investment in our infrastructure, it is only the combination of HS2 and NPR, boosting connectivity east to west and north to south, which can really power up the North. We should not have to accept one or the other; the same trade-offs do not get raised when London needs new infrastructure.
Linking up the cities of the North with fast, frequent rail connections will create a Northern Powerhouse as prosperous and successful as the South East, with opportunities for young people to access skilled jobs right across the North. High speed infrastructure will form the backbone of the UK’s transport network, creating the foundations for NPR to spread prosperity across the whole of the North.
Let’s take a look at what new transport infrastructure would mean Leeds City Region, which will be transformed by HS2 and NPR. Our plans show HS2, integrated with local transport at a transformed Leeds station, can deliver 40,000 additional jobs directly and a further 50,000 through productivity and regeneration benefits by 2050 across the region. This has helped us to secure major investment and attract organisations like Channel 4, Burberry and Sky.
As business leaders have made clear, HS2 is fundamental to rebalancing the UK’s economy. The North needs both HS2 and NPR with a station in central Bradford, alongside investment in the East Coast Main Line and an upgraded Trans-Pennine line, as well as improvements in our local network, to enable deliver our region, the North and the UK need to prosper in the decades ahead.
The North is preparing for the revolution that HS2 and NPR could bring, fundamentally changing the economic geography of the UK and weaning the country off an over-heating London.
Work on HS2 is already well under way and delivering economic benefits. Contracts are being signed, people are being employed, skills are being developed and businesses are making strategic location and investment decisions. Abolishing HS2 risks killing this progress stone dead. It would be a huge red flag to any business thinking seriously about investing in the North. Greatly-enhanced connectivity can attract organisations from all over the world.
We will continue to work with the Government and the Oakervee Review into HS2, to identify ways HS2 can deliver even more for the North of England while also considering options to help control costs and deliver a new North-South railway on the current HS2 timetable.
For a successful future, putting faith in HS2 and NPR with a station in central Bradford, is putting faith in the UK’s business and industrial base and in the Northern Powerhouse. It sends a clear signal that the Government is willing to invest so that UK plc can thrive.
Judith Blake is the leader of Leeds City Council. A Labour politician, she is also West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s lead councillor on transport.