YP Comment: Clarity needed over HS2 plans - Work to do to convince public

IF the HS2 project is to deliver maximum benefit to Yorkshire and the rest of the North '“ as we were told was its raison d'etre '“ then it is imperative that every opportunity is taken to use it to establish better links between major Northern towns and cities, along with emerging rural economies.

Campaign group HS2 East says the high speed rail scheme would boost Yorkshire's economy. (PA)

Connectivity will be key to the scheme’s perceived success or failure. Not least when it comes to winning over a still rather sceptical public residing north of the Watford Gap.

The high speed line has the potential to bring previously unseen economic advantages. According to campaign group HS2 East, it will add £200m to the economies of the Leeds and Sheffield city regions, with a further £40m if it connects into an upgraded East Coast Main Line.

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The group is confident that improved connections between our rural areas, towns and cities will make our businesses stronger, more productive and better able to support the ongoing renewal of those communities.

HS2 East is certainly right to demand that the benefits of high speed rail are not just limited to the stops on the route currently planned. Yet this can only be achieved if the Eastern Leg of the scheme is delivered in full and as quickly as possible.

First, however, it is vital that Theresa May’s Government provides clarity on this issue – a resounding message that HS2 remains on track. The continued doubts cast over its future, even after new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling pledged that it would not be scrapped, are an unhelpful distraction.

HS2’s cause has clearly not been helped by the fact that spending on consultants, surveyors and contractors has soared past £300m a year.

That is why it is even more important for the new-look Government to cut through the continued uncertainty and set out a clear timetable that shows exactly how its advent will release this region’s untapped potential. It might just start justifying the money that has already been spent.

Tuition fees set to rise

A university education comes at a high price these days for students – and quite often the Bank of Mum and Dad too – so the news that universities in England are set to be able to charge even more from next year, has raised some concerns.

Several Yorkshire universities are among those that have said they will raise their annual tuition fees to the new maximum of £9,250, in line with inflation, if MPs back Government reforms.

Ministers say this increased cap will only be available to higher education institutions that meet its high-quality teaching standards and on the face of it this sounds reasonable.

Britain’s position in the global marketplace depends on there being sufficient rigour in every course so that graduates are equipped as best they can be for the world outside the lecture hall. But there is concern over the impact of this additional financial burden on students, many of whom are already buckling under the weight of existing debts.

It is only four years since the tuition fees cap shot up from £3,000, to £9,000 a year. Some students may only have to stump up an extra £250 a year as a result of this latest increase, but the truth is that tuition fees are only moving in one direction, with some students facing the daunting prospect of still paying off these debts when they are in their 50s.

We do not want a return to the bad old days when only a rich, privileged elite could afford to go to university, and as a society we have to ask ourselves whether we want to be heading down a path where we are effectively taxing our brightest and most talented youngsters who simply want to better themselves.

Strangers pack war veteran’s funeral

THE plea was for a turnout that gave Second World War serviceman Stewart Cooney the send-off he deserved.

Having served his country with courage, the 95-year-old former Troop Sergeant Major was thought to have no surviving relatives or close friends.

Yet the scale of the response to that call could surely not have been anticipated.

There was standing room only as hundreds of complete strangers – young and old alike – turned out to salute Mr Cooney, a veteran of the Royal Artillery who fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino.

His sisters were among long lost family members who were tracked down. Members of the Royal British Legion were in attendance and a bikers’ club carried in the coffin.

How heartening that in this self-obsessed age the debt we owe to individuals such as Mr Cooney shows no sign of being forgotten.