HS2: Will High-Speed Rail Deliver On Its Promise?
The debate on Britain’s new high-speed rail is never far from the headlines, but can it really deliver the economic benefits to the north of England that it promises?
The high speed railway HS2 is one of the flagship projects of the coalition’s term in government. It seems likely that both UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne would like to look back at their time in office and see the huge high-speed rail project, currently budgeted for £50 billion, as their lasting legacy.
But since its inception, arguments about the route have been closely related to debate over the economic benefits that the project’s champions claim it will bring, especially in the north of England where major cities such as Manchester and Leeds are expected to receive their own stations.
This was certainly underlying last week’s report from the HS2 Growth Taskforce, which not only called for a specific HS2 minister to run the project from the government perspective, but called for a redesign of the construction timeline so that the line heading northwards can open years earlier.
In particular, the extension of the line to the railway town of Crewe could be brought forward by six years, so that trains could run between there and Birmingham by 2027. From there, the Y-shaped extension into the north-west and north-east could be completed in three years, early in 2030.
Mr Osborne has welcomed the proposal and asked the company managing the project, HS2 Ltd, to work on some new proposals to accelerate the prospect. He said that the plans “would see huge benefits delivered to the north six years sooner than planned through a new hub at Crewe, creating more growth and rebalancing the economy in line with our long-term economic plan”.
If project boss Sir David Higgins sees the logistical benefits, a shorter timeline also makes sense from a political perspective. HS2 has been one of the most divisive ideas of the coalition’s term. Many northerners have maintained that they will be the last to receive the benefits – if at all, since some fear that it will lure businesses out of the regions and towards London rather than vice versa.
It may not have universal approval yet, but Sir David Higgins claims that HS2 might be beneficial to northern Britain. “HS2 will open the door to the north, not just becoming more attractive to businesses that want to escape the pressure cooker of commercial property prices in the south but also beginning to harness the full potential of its skills base, its universities and its diverse identities,” Sir David said.
The fact that so many towns and cities have campaigned for their stations suggests that local authorities are hoping for jobs and activity that will kickstart local economies. It appears the government has realised the scheme will have to prove its worth sooner rather than later.
<Image courtesy Herbert Ortner/Some rights reserved>