HIGH-SPEED rail bosses today pile the pressure on Boris Johnson, the man most likely to be Britain’s next Prime Minister, by telling him: “HS2 must be delivered in full. There is no Plan B for tackling the North-South divide.”
The intervention follows the publication of a hard-hitting new report which makes a renewed economic – and political – case for the controversial £56bn scheme as Mr Johnson warns that he intends, if elected later this month, to order an immediate review into its financial viability.
And writing exclusively in The Yorkshire Post, Jim Steer, director of High Speed Rail Industry Leaders which has produced the latest analysis, warns: “The country has been divided for too long. We need HS2 to begin the process of bringing Britain back together again.”
Mr Johnson, the former Mayor of London, has repeatedly indicated during the Tory leadership contest that he would prefer Northern Powerhouse Rail – a new trans-Pennine line – to take precedence while a review into the HS2 business case is completed.
In his latest intervention, Mr Johnson said: “What we need to look at is the size of the bill, it’s probably north of £100bn by the time it’s done.” He then expressed a preference for local schemes, saying “mass transit great rail projects equalise society” and “give people an opportunity”, while his opponent, Jeremy Hunt, is backing HS2 in full.
But today’s report warns Mr Johnson that HS2 is “ready to build” in phases after a decade of planning and other schemes, such as the proposed £39bn line from Hull to Liverpool and a light transit scheme for Leeds, “will take many years to reach the same build-ready status”.
It also says another hiatus will jeopardise planned economic investment in Northern cities like Leeds – and lead to existing rush-hour journeys taking longer because the current network is operating at peak capacity.
The study says passenger and freight demand grew by three per cent over last year – and this trend will continue. “Overcrowding is sadly now common-place, but even with inflation-indexed fare increases year-on-year, demand pressure continues to grow. Formal punctuality targets set by the industry regulator have had to be eased back,” it adds. “It isn’t just a fast link with London. HS2, where it is built into city centres, will free up capacity for better services on existing lines, especially for commuters.
In his article, Mr Steer says 22 Northern locations, including Bradford, Wakefield, Doncaster and Hull, will enjoy extra trains as a result of HS2 creating extra track capacity.
He also warns senior Tories like Mr Johnson that “pitting” HS2 against a new line in the North is “a false choice”. It needs to be understood that HS2 helps deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail,” he adds.
“HS2 is a large-scale project but its costs amount to less than 0.4 per cent of total public spending in the period ahead. And its estimated benefits – which cautiously do not presume a re-vitalised Northern economy – are roughly double its cost.
“There is one inescapable conclusion. HS2 must be delivered in full.”
Ex-Minister steps up opposition
FORMER Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom stepped up calls for a “full reassessment of the business case for HS2”.
She dismissed the new report’s assertion that there will be extra demand from business and leisure users.
A longstanding opponent of HS2 because of its potential impact on her rural South Northamptonshire consitutency, she added: “We have to think creatively about our transport infrastructure, we have to be brave enough to scrutinise the value for money of any project if we think it won’t deliver the benefits it promises.”