Robert Goodwill: Getting on track to a true high-speed future

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I BELIEVE passionately in a successful Britain and in a country that can compete and thrive in the global economy. To achieve that, we need infrastructure that is fit for the 21st century and beyond.

Nowhere is that truer than in the context of transport, which is a key enabler of economic growth. Good transport equals good economic conditions. An important way to support British business, to power up the recovery and to put people back in work,is to invest in – and modernise – our transport networks.

Growth and prosperity are created by businesses and people having ideas, taking risks, innovating, working hard and creating jobs. A balanced and successful economy requires modern and efficient infrastructure. The Government’s role is to help create the conditions for success by fostering the security, skills and infrastructure that support our economy.

By delivering additional capacity and enhanced connectivity with HS2, transport infrastructure allows businesses to grow and work together and to access a wide range of customers, suppliers and skilled labour. Business investment is encouraged by the quality of transport links, influencing the decisions of international companies on where to locate and, in turn, increasing investment in the UK.

Transport infrastructure has particular economic significance for UK cities. In 2009, London and the core cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield, together with their wider urban areas, contributed almost 50 per cent of UK GDP. The core cities deliver 27 per cent of the UK’s GDP and need to be better connected to thrive and achieve higher levels of growth if they are to close the performance gap between the south-east and the rest of the country – the so-called North-South divide.

Major infrastructure investments like HS2 stand apart from many other decisions made by the public and private sector. They affect the lives of generations of citizens and last centuries, not decades, which makes it important that we make the right decision. In proposing HS2, the Government are firmly convinced that we are investing in a solution that is right for the future economic development of the country, and I am pleased that we have such widespread cross-party support.

HS2 is a transformational project that will enhance rail capacity, connectivity and reliability, helping to underpin economic growth. It will provide the spine for a truly national network, connecting seamlessly to the existing rail network, serving destinations not directly on the high-speed line, releasing capacity on the existing main North-South lines to enable additional commuter, regional or freight services to use the line and freeing up more space on existing trains.

HS2 will slash journey times for passengers between our key cities and regions: London to Birmingham will take just 49 minutes, London to Manchester just one hour eight minutes, and London to Leeds just one hour 23 minutes. Scotland will benefit from high-speed services from the moment that HS2 opens. The Y network allows for the seamless transition of trains on to the East and West Coast main lines and is expected to slash the journey times between Edinburgh and Glasgow to London by up to an hour, which will benefit the Scottish economy by some £3bn. Scotland is an important part of the United Kingdom, and we must not be swayed by those who propose dangerous alternatives.

HS2 will be the biggest infrastructure project in Europe and will have a significant direct impact on local jobs, particularly in engineering and construction. Independent research predicts that HS2 is capable of directly generating up to 22,000 jobs in the next five years, rising to a maximum of 50,000 jobs by the late 2020s. In addition, HS2 will support over 100,000 jobs. Phase one will create 40,000 jobs in the Midlands and London and phase two will create at least 60,000 jobs in the Midlands and the North. We recognise that the benefits will not just fall into our lap and the role of the growth taskforce is to identify the work that must be done in advance to ensure that we capture the full potential of this investment for the UK.

HS2, coupled with the record investments we are making in existing transport, is the right solution to the transport challenges that we face. It is about a change in capacity and connectivity for passengers. It is about unlocking the potential of our major cities and regions, supporting jobs and driving growth.

It is about building a dynamic society, a thriving economy and a successful Britain. HS2 is not just a viable proposition for a new railway; it is so much more than a piece of transport infrastructure.

The Yorkshire Post will next week publish research on business attitudes towards HS2 in Yorkshire. Carried out in partnership with law firm Nabarro, the findings are likely to spur more debate over the controversial project.

* Robert Goodwill is a Transport Minister and MP for Scarborough and Whitby. This is an edited version of a Parliamentary speech on HS2