This is our last chance to dispel the myths of the HS2 naysayers - Mark Casci

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By the end of the week we are due to find out the results of the independent Overkee Review into HS2.

A large amount of speculation on its findings have been published, including scrapping the Birmingham to Leeds line altogether or simply having the line run from London to Manchester via Birmingham and then over to Leeds, a move which incidently would completely cut Sheffield off from the route and make Yorkshire a distant outpost on the line.

HS2 - pic by Alstom Design & Styling 2019

HS2 - pic by Alstom Design & Styling 2019

Read more: Selfishness and shortsightedness of HS2 naysayers must be challenged - Gerald Jennings
As this could be my last chance to comment on the HS2 plan as it was initially intended I wanted to try and dispel some myths and, if I am frank, downright lies about the scheme from some of those oppose it.

Firstly, one of the principal accusations laid at HS2’s door is that nothing is happening. This is false. The project is active on more than 60 sites from London to Birmingham, supporting 7,000 jobs and 2,000 businesses. And before we get sucked into the crypto-populist rhetoric over it only benefiting massive corporations let us be remember than the majority of these businesses, some 70 per cent in all are SMEs.

Secondly, the often repeated claim regarding HS2 that the money would be better spent on improving the infrastructure that is already there.

The reality is that Network Rail is already spending £130 million every week on improvements to current infrastructure and even then there are many rail experts who say this is not enough.

Sheffield would be cut off by the revised proposal.

Sheffield would be cut off by the revised proposal.

Simply adding more tracks to existing routes would potentially cost more than HS2. It would certainly take far longer and it is indisputable that there are simply nowhere enough engineers in the country to make this possible

Thirdly, and this one is my absolute favourite, is that we should take the HS2 budget and spend it on improving connectivity in the North.

The North cannot get sucked into this pathetic zero-sum game. We need both, not one or the other. We are overdue for both and should not settle for second best.

East-West connectivity improvements are crucial, no question about that.

HS2

HS2

HS2 is the springboard to bringing in high speed rail to the North. It frees up spare capacity for so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail, with Leeds to Sheffield being one of the routes likely to see the most benefit.

Finally there is the suggestion that it will not impact on the lives of regular commuters and benefit only those who travel to and from the capital.

Let us not forget that current services to and from Yorkshire and London run in many cases on the same tracks as local services, leading to increased congestion. HS2 takes the rapid services onto their own bespoke track network, meaning the local services have freer reign.

And let us not forget the thousands of car journeys the scheme will take off of our roads, the implications for freight or the benefits completely outside of transport.

Leeds

Leeds

As the London Property Alliance astutely pointed out in its submissions to the review, HS2 has never been looked at through the prism of land values and the boost this would give to property prices. As such HS2 is continually viewed as solely a railway upgrade rather than a grand infrastructure improvement not seen since the reign of Queen Victoria which would benefit everything from skill levels to house values.

Speaking of Queen Victoria, let us not forget that much of the infrastructure our current rail network is based on dates back to her time on the throne.

Is this the hallmark of a great leading nation at the forefront of the world’s economic development? A nation that feels centuries old plans are fit for the future.

You will notice I have not mentioned cost. This is deliberate. HS2 is eye-wateringly expensive. Big change always is.

When the review comes back we shall see where the land lies.

But if we are cut off from this grand piece of infrastructure then it will be one of the biggest own goals in our modern British history and the damage will be felt by our children and grandchildren.

This failed opportunity would be a far higher price to pay.