The case for high-speed rail

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GIVEN that the tentative completion date of the first stage of the national high-speed rail project is still more than a decade away, there is at least plenty of time for its supporters to convert the growing number of sceptics.

Yet it must be of some concern to those who are championing the scheme – which would ultimately create a faster rail link between Yorkshire and the capital – that the ranks of those unconvinced of its benefits appear to be swelling at a rate of knots.

There are signs that the cross-party consensus in favour of HS2 is in danger. Last week former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling warned of a “nightmare” on the country’s existing railways if the new line was built after its budget jumped from £32bn to £42.6bn.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle have also insisted that its costs must be kept in check to continue to receive their party’s support.

Now the Institute of Directors has joined those calling for HS2 to be scrapped, branding the project “a grand folly” and reporting that a survey of its members found that just over a quarter feel the scheme represents good value for money. This stance is in sharp contrast, however, to the view put forward by the Federation of Small Businesses, which has insisted that HS2 is vital for economic growth in Yorkshire.

The Government should certainly be doing a better job of convincing doubters that the economic benefits of the project will be delivered to the North rather than to London. Nevertheless, there remain a number of factors that produce a convincing case in favour of it going ahead.

The true justification for HS2 is the fact that the country’s railways are suffering from a desperate shortage of capacity at a time when they have seldom been more popular, with twice as many train journeys being made today as 20 years ago.

Building a high-speed 
rail link between our key cities will not only deliver a long overdue world class service but it will provide 
the capacity needed on those routes that will 
free up space for the desperately needed expansion of commuter 
and freight services.

In such a context the shaving of up to 50 minutes off journey times between Yorkshire and London could be seen as a welcome bonus.

Hospital meals must be better

WITH more than 30 million meals left uneaten each year and patients increasingly relying on their families to bring them food, there is a clear problem with the standard of fare being served up in the nation’s hospitals.

And yet when asked to assess the quality of the dishes they produced, three out of five hospitals across the country awarded themselves the highest possible rating – flying in the face of the damning verdicts of patients.

At Rotherham Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, for instance, only 46 per cent of patients said the food was good – and yet staff still gave it top marks.

Such a refusal to admit that a problem exists hinders efforts to address it – just as stories of heart patients being given stodgy, fat-laden foods hours after major surgery and trolley rounds offering crisps, sweets and other junk food undermine doctors’ efforts to encourage healthy eating.

Patients’ hopes of a swift recovery are unlikely to be boosted by exposure to meals that have such limited nutritional value or are simply so unappealing that they are left untouched.

Responding to calls for an urgent improvement, the Department of Health has said it recognises there is currently too much variation in standards across the country and that this will be addressed under a tough new inspection programme.

It is a start, but this is a problem that has been obvious for some time with little concerted action being taken to tackle it.

Cost is undoubtedly a factor, but there can be

no excuse for hospital patients receiving meals that are not even up to the standard of those given to the country’s prison population.

A testament to value of hard work

THE year 1963 was a momentous one. The United States stepped up its involvement in Vietnam, Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech and the world witnessed the first symptoms of the global hysteria that would come to be known as Beatlemania.

Closer to home, history of a different yet not insignificant kind was being made with the opening of the first Asian corner shop in Huddersfield.

The pride and joy of a recent arrival from Pakistan, Rashid Chowdry had come to the country with just a smattering of English but managed to secure a job as a bus conductor which then funded his fledgling business.

Fifty years on and Punjab Stores is still going strong thanks to those generations who followed in his wake. It’s a sign of how far multiculturalism has

come that the chillis,

spices and other staples of the Asian diet now sit alongside cans of baked beans and fizzy pop on

the shelves.

It’s a reminder too of the inspirational example set by those self-reliant immigrants to this country who have built better lives for themselves and their families on the back of little more than determination and unstinting hard work.