Start building HS2 in North

“IN our view, the risks of not going ahead with HS2 significantly outweigh the risks of doing so.”

These words, published today by Parliament’s all-party Transport Select Committee, go to the heart of the continuing debate about the merit of high-speed rail services between Yorkshire and London.

If Britain does not find a way to increase capacity on the creaking rail network, whether it be for additional passenger services or freight trains, then the entire infrastructure will grind to a halt by the middle of this century because of an absence of political foresight and backbone.

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And this explains why the tone of today’s report differs from the conclusions of other Parliamentary critiques. This study is underpinned by the urgent need to increase capacity on the rail network rather than the financial bottom line which has been the concern of, amongst others, Ed Balls, the sceptical Shadow Chancellor.

However this report does take a strident line on finance and it would be remiss of the Government to ignore the conclusions of a report that is likely to help retain the cross-party consensus.

As well as imploring Ministers to emphasise more clearly to the public that the estimated cost of HS2 is £28bn, rather than some of the more wild estimates which have angered so many, these findings make a compelling case for work on the new railway line beginning in the North and London simultaneously.

This argument is not a new one. It has already been made by this newspaper, but it is worth repeating. The sooner HS2 is built, the quicker it can deliver the economic dividend that underpins its business case.

The danger is that if work begins in London the line will never reach the North. This latest report does issue a cautionary warning that there is no plan, at present, to link HS2 with Heathrow Airport, and this omission is likely to become even more contentious when Ministers consider whether to build a new airport to increase capacity.

But it does say that the political and economic arguments can be won if more is done to explain the benefits of building HS2 super-stations at Leeds and Sheffield, and promising to begin construction in the North will only help to win over the critics.

Must do better

ANOTHER day and another raft of statistics that reveal why the standard of education in Yorkshire’s primary schools is one of the most profound issues facing this region in 2014.

There are statistical oddities in some of the data – even though Ofsted ranks East Riding as one of the worst performing LEAs in the country, the Department for Education says the county actually has the best performing primary school pupils in this region.

Either way, this is not a time for semantics. The simple truth of the matter is that too many pupils are receiving an inadequate primary education and failing to learn the fabled three Rs which will underpin their learning, knowledge and understanding for a lifetime.

This is borne out by the one conclusion common to both Ofsted and the DfE – there is a greater proportion of under-achieving pupils, and schools, in Yorkshire than any other region, as has been the case for years.

It will take time to rectify – change will not happen overnight – but LEA leaders do need to establish how some schools, like Tranmere Park in Guiseley, Leeds, can flourish while others struggle to meet basic benchmarks.

Education Secretary Michael Gove appears to be placing his faith in a new generation of free schools and academies, even though their effectiveness is still to be proven. Mr Gove could still be proved right – he is passionate about standards – but this will only be possible if the Government’s investment in schools is matched by unrivalled teaching standards and parents becoming more involved in the education of their children.

Power of sport

THE sporting record books show that Team GB won 63 gold medals at last year’s Olympics and Paralympics.

Make that 64, after official figures showed that more than 1.5 million people are playing sport at least once a week in Yorkshire – a 200,000 increase on eight years ago when Britain won the race to host the greatest show on earth.

Proof that the Olympics did help to inspire a generation, the challenge now is continuing this momentum so that Britain can harness the power of sport – the stated aim of Lord Sebastian Coe who says securing a legacy from the 2012 Games is even more important than the successful staging of the sports events.

Three things need to happen. First, continued political recognition that grassroots sport can make an extraordinary difference to lives. Second, the investment in new facilities – or sessions – so people from all walks of life can embrace sport. The next tranche of local government cuts do not bode well. And, finally, Britain’s sporting heroes – like those vying for the 60th BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in Leeds on Sunday night – leading by example as competitors and role models. In many respects, this is their most important race of all.