Across the north, political leaders, communities and businesses have come together following last week’s announcement that the Government has delayed HS2 again, risking long term prosperity and growth. The news is deeply disappointing, and further delays any benefits to Leeds, Sheffield and Yorkshire as a whole. Ironically, chopping and changing plans causes costs to rise, and with the benefits of HS2 being widely accepted across Westminster for years now, the transformative change it will bring to cities and regions across the are being deferred.
In case anyone needs reminding, let’s re-state the core arguments for high speed rail, which are: enhanced rail capacity – for passengers and for railfreight; transformed connectivity between Britain’s major towns and cities, investment leading to growth and prosperity spread more evenly across Britain; a zero-carbon alternative with less need for short distance air-travel and a modal shift of long-haul freight off the national road network, which taken together, significant reduce our national carbon footprint.
The project will bring together Britain’s largest economic regions to support growth and spread prosperity more evenly to the north and make a world of difference for small and medium sized businesses, as skills, expertise, goods and resources flow more freely across the UK. HS2 already supports 27,000 jobs, 950 apprentices and 2,580 businesses.
The benefits were understood in January when it was confirmed that HS2 would run to Euston and earlier this month when it was announced that high speed trains would reach Manchester. It helps nobody to delay these outcomes.
But it does add to the overall cost of the project. With infrastructure project costs rising universally due to inflation, the cheapest way to deliver HS2, like any large infrastructure project, is to get on with it. Each new delay causes the total cost of the project to snowball and uncertainty in Government breeds uncertainty in industry. Standing down and then re-starting only adds another layer of cost to this. The short term savings from delaying HS2 pale into insignificance compared to the cost of continuing to deliver it inefficiently.
So last week was disappointing, but all is not lost. We now need a definitive, unswerving commitment to the new delivery plan and timescale. Industry will get on and deliver it as efficiently as possible, and politicians from across the House need to vocally get behind it to restore confidence. Then, the much-promised plan to get high speed services to Leeds needs to come forward. It used to be in the plan, and then fell away when the Integrated Rail Plan was published. But government remains committed to that eventual goal, and now needs to work with local leaders and business across Leeds and the rest of Yorkshire to make it happen. The next stage is the terms of reference for the options to Leeds. Surely there can be no reason to defer these any longer, 15 months after this was announced as the way forward? HS2 can still fulfil its potential for Yorkshire and the rest of the UK – but the onus is now on Government to prove its commitment to the North and Midlands.
Tom Wadsworth, HSRG Director
for Yorkshire Post