There has been much talk in recent days about the Government’s decision to build a high-speed rail link between London and the North of England, via Birmingham. The consultation is coming to an end and the two campaigns are gearing up for a scrap over whether it is an affordable and cost-effective scheme which will benefit Britain in the long-term.
As a Conservative MP representing a seat in West Yorkshire I have no hesitation in stating that I support the Government’s proposals wholeheartedly. A couple of months ago I joined together with a number of colleagues of mine – Andrew Jones MP, John Stevenson MP, David Mowat MP, Stephen Mosley MP, Stuart Andrew MP, Jason McCartney MP and Eric Ollerenshaw MP – in expressing our enthusiasm for high-speed rail.
We did this for one simple reason. We believe that the scheme will be good for England as a whole. Travelling to London in just 80 minutes and enjoying better access to Heathrow Airport and the Continent are just two of the more obvious advantages. Time after time I have heard opponents of high-speed rail ask the same question; “What’s the point in shaving 30 minutes off a trip from London to Birmingham?”. What they forget is that the proposed route goes beyond Birmingham to include Manchester and Leeds, two of the most important economic centres in the country. For businessmen and women (not to mention people seeking leisure opportunities) being able to travel from these two cities to the nation’s capital in less than an hour and a half is a big deal indeed. This is not a rich man’s train set, but something which will help ordinary people up and down the country.
Yorkshire and the Humber has been hit hard by the economic downturn. It has lost jobs from the public sector and unemployment remains stubbornly high. High-speed rail will ensure that companies based in the north are better able to trade and do business with their southern counterparts, as well as businesses located overseas. Research commissioned by Metro and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive has shown that by reducing journey times the local economy in Yorkshire could benefit to the tune of billions of pounds. This is investment that the region badly needs.
During the last Labour Government there was a huge disparity in the way funding for transport infrastructure was allocated. The Transport Select Committee, in a report published earlier this year, stated:
“The Government must do more to correct regional disparities in transport investment. Transport spending in London for 2008-09 was almost twice the UK average per capita and with schemes like Crossrail this trend looks set to continue. The economic recession has however had a bigger impact in the north so there is an urgent need for increased investment in transport schemes within and between northern cities in order to boost their capacity for economic growth.”
If we are to rebalance the economy and get more people into private sector jobs then we need to address this problem as soon as possible. Pushing ahead with High-Speed Rail will signal the Government’s intention to do just that.
This is not about North v. South. The posters put out by the HS2 campaign group are ill thought out and unhelpful to say the least and will do nothing to add to the debate surrounding high-speed rail. HS2 is about the Government signalling loud and clear that the UK – all four corners of it – is open for business. It is about investing in the infrastructure which will give our small and medium sized businesses a competitive edge. And it is about making the point to countries like India and China that we will not stand back whilst they surge ahead with their economic development.
Yes, we need better roads and motorways and yes we need to do something about congestion on our commuter rail services. But in terms of a high-speed rail link between our great cities, North and South, the country that invented the railways and exported them around the world needs to enter the 21st century.