On the back of today’s (Friday 13 Sep 2019) Convention of the North conference, the presence there of the Prime Minister and the uncertainty surrounding transport investment in the North, the Chamber was asked to contribute an opinion piece for the Yorkshire Post newspaper. An early version of it, penned by Chamber Chair, Gerald Jennings, is below (published Friday 13 Sep 2019). (See Gerald’s appeal/warning to the PM here.)
Why the North needs high speed rail – The HS2 Oakervee review
I recently met with Doug Oakervee and I put it to him straight: the North needs HS2.
West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce support has been longstanding and is focused on increasing capacity across the rail network, improving connectivity, and providing more reliable services.
Investment in HS2 and our rail network is not about building train sets – it’s about facilitating regeneration and enabling social mobility and economic growth. Does anyone seriously believe that a largely Victorian-era built railway network is fit for purpose or can be tweaked to provide what we need in the 21st century?
No-one is asking for a blank cheque and public scrutiny is absolutely correct, but it needs to be balanced and that’s what I told Doug Oakervee. Let’s ensure that while looking at the costs we do not lose sight of the benefits – and that we capture them properly. This should not be about saving money, but about investing for the future.
The capacity released by HS2 could more than double the number of evening peak seats between Doncaster and Leeds. Also, as passengers in West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire switch to using HS2, there will be a substantial increase in seats for those who start their journey at Huddersfield, Doncaster and Wakefield on the classic network.
Once HS2 Phase 2b (from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester) is operating, the capacity released could see trains run hourly from Bradford Forster Square to London Kings Cross on the classic network. The alleviation of pressure on key bottlenecks will improve services across the region, and this could see the amount of hourly services double between Leeds and eastern towns such as Newark, Grantham and Retford, with direct services to Norwich and Cambridge possible. So even if you don’t step foot on an HS2 train – you’ll benefit from better, local rail services.
HS2 Phase One (London to Birmingham) could take more than 3,600 lorries off UK roads every day between London and the West Midlands, and this figure wil only increase as the railway extends northwards to Leeds. The bulk of the current intercity passenger traffic will move onto the new high-speed line, freeing up more space for freight on the existing network between London and the West Midlands. This released capacity equates to more than one million lorries that could be taken off the roads every year as a result of HS2 – improving air quality, reducing road congestion and helping reduce carbon emissions.
Here in Yorkshire, capacity released on the East Coast Main Line could be used for container freight from East Anglia and the Thames Gateway to Yorkshire and the North East. Rail traffic could better serve deliveries of material to Drax Power Station, close to the East Coast Main Line, which has been converted from coal to biomass as part of the national programme to reduce carbon emissions.
People say that east – west connectivity is far more important than faster trains to Birmingham and London. However, HS2 is key to delivering the plans for the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) network, and will provide the backbone on which our NPR ambitions can be realised. Would anyone seriously contemplate the M62 without the M1? HS2 and NPR must be built as part of a network, not as isolated projects, to ensure that Bradford, York, Sheffield and other northern cities all benefit from increased connectivity.
We also hear that HS2 will drag people and businesses south to the detriment of northern cities. However in recent years we are seeing the exact opposite with organisations choosing to move to locations where they can recruit and invest in northern talent. We’ve seen it here in Leeds already with Burberry, Sky and Channel Four all choosing to call us home. This is just the beginning.
Whilst London will remain a global city, imagine how powerful a well-connected north and south could be for the UK economy. Why can’t we be confident that with improved connectivity we can be more attractive as a place in which to live, work and play and have more investment and quality jobs move north? You only need to look at Leeds’ twin city Lille, and how it has benefitted from high-speed rail connections with London and Paris.
When I hear naysayers saying they’ll be long gone by the time HS2 arrives I like to remind them it’s not just about them. It’s about investing now and building for our next and future generations. Let’s move on from a rather self-absorbed if not selfish attitude of “it’s all about me”. If we don’t start now, we’ll never get there!
The Chamber wants and has called for HS2 to start in the North. We want the transformed Leeds HS2 station to be a through station, not a terminus for HS2 as currently planned. And we want services to move seamlessly on to York, the North East and Scotland, so we pressed for this when we met with Doug Oakervee. The inclusive growth strategies being promoted by our northern cities, and which this Chamber strongly supports, will help create jobs, support economic growth, increase social mobility and deliver prosperity for future generations – but that only happens if we invest now.
The cost to Yorkshire, the North and the UK of not investing now and significantly in HS2, NPR and the full rail network cannot be underestimated. I truly believe we will live to regret what would be a lost opportunity for generations to come. These debates never happen in London, so why do we let them happen in the North? Let’s get on with it and start building.
Gerald Jennings, Chair, West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce