HS2 is more than just a railway and will boost 'levelling-up' ambitions, say Chamber of Commerce bosses along route

HS2 is about “much more than a new railway” and should be viewed as a catalyst for levelling up, according to chief executives at the four largest Chambers of Commerce along the controversial high speed route.

Sandy Needham at West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Henrietta Brealey at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, Clive Memmott at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and Scott Knowles at East Midlands Chamber claimed the high-speed rail project “remains fundamentally misunderstood” as only a transport investment.

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In a joint letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, they said HS2 would bring strong economic growth to each of their areas and called for the “speedy confirmation” of its delivery in full and as planned.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the HS2 Solihull Interchange building site in the West Midlands to mark the formal start of construction on HS2. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday September 4, 2020. See PA story RAIL HS2. Photo credit should read: Andrew Fox/Daily Telegraph/PA Wire

A final sign-off on how and when the project will be delivered has been delayed on several occasions and is now expected in the Autumn as part of the Government's Integrated Rail Plan.

In the letter, the Chambers of Commerce leaders say: “We believe that HS2 remains fundamentally misunderstood. In many quarters, it is still viewed as being purely a rail investment project sitting within the Department for Transport.

“The various reviews done to date – and in which we have wholeheartedly participated – have approached it almost universally as being solely about transport investment, judging it through this singular lens with regards to cost/benefit analysis.

“Such an understanding of HS2 is hopelessly flawed. While even with this narrow focus the project still more than stands up to scrutiny given capacity constraints, connection shortfalls and the need to upgrade transport to green, clean alternatives, we cannot emphasise enough how HS2 is about much, much more than a new railway.”

The letter points out how each of the regions where HS2 will pass through have developed local plans for growth that have centred around the opportunities it will bring.

They consider the immediate vicinity of the stations, but also further afield through enhanced local connectivity, “often in areas that have faced chronic underinvestment over a number of years”.

“This growth is about new business investment, house building, place regeneration, high-skilled job creation, innovation, green technologies and more,” the leaders add.

“Indeed, we are already seeing these plans start to come to fruition across Birmingham, where the certainty of the first phase of HS2 has already spurred private sector investment and development.

“Without the development of HS2 as promised, these plans will be critically undermined, and any delivery that does happen will certainly not be of the magnitude aspired to.”

In May, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the HS2 rail project will go all the way to Leeds after fears over mounting costs had prompted speculation over the full scheme going ahead.

Construction work on phase one of the high-speed rail project from London to Birmingham is ongoing.

While phase 2a is planned to run from Birmingham to Crewe, and phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and from Birmingham to Leeds.

But after the Government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned last year that the final bill for HS2 could reach £106 billion at 2019 prices, there were concerns the so-called eastern leg of phase 2b – which would run to Leeds – could be scrapped.

This was further compounded when the National Infrastructure Commission said in December that the focus should be on regional connectivity.