The LEP backs calls for HS2 to be delivered in full

In his latest column for the Yorkshire Post, Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the NP11 (Northern Powerhouse 11) Board, has called for a public-private coalition to ensure that HS2 is delivered in full.

I was among 21 LEP chairs, council leaders and mayors to sign a letter to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury emphasizing our firm belief that HS2 must be delivered in full last week.

I had no hesitation in signing the letter and I was pleased to see so many fellow northern Local Enterprise Partnership chairs also lending their support alongside council and combined authority leaders, mayors and others.

I was pleased because we need to ensure that the voice of the private sector, the businesses driving the Northern Powerhouse, are heard alongside those of our civic colleagues as the future of this essential project is considered in Whitehall.

We should be in no doubt that a battle over the future of HS2 is underway. Many, perhaps myself included, will have considered the argument already won on several occasions. However, a changing political landscape and a review of Government spending are together creating an environment where all major projects are once again up for consideration.

It is important to remember that it was a partnership of the public and private sector, council and business leaders, which secured the commitment to deliver HS2 to the North and which convinced the Government that the Y-shape was needed to serve both sides of the Pennines. It was that partnership which also successfully made the case for the line to be incorporated into Leeds Station, rather than serving a new terminus, to ensure it will be integrated with local services, delivering benefits for the whole of the Leeds City Region.

That powerful private-public coalition must come together again now to ensure HS2 is delivered as part of the comprehensive package of investment we need to transform travel across the North of England and with it our economic prospects.

It was the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review which identified “poor connectivity and transport” as one of the factors behind the productivity gap separating the North and the rest of England. The prize for closing that gap was put at 850,000 jobs and a 15 per cent increase in GVA above projected growth.

In response, the North has set out a clear and compelling plan for investing in our strategic transport network to deliver the capacity and journey times we need to support our ambitions to close that gap.

Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), a proposal to upgrade existing lines and invest in new track, is central to that plan and we have heard in recent weeks a rekindling of the argument that accelerating the delivery of NPR would be preferable to investment in HS2. To make that argument is to fail to understand the vision we have for transport across the North.

The case for NPR is predicated on the delivery of HS2 to Leeds and Manchester. Similarly, the benefits of HS2 would be significantly diminished in the event of a failure to go ahead with NPR; the two are inextricably linked.

Only through new infrastructure serving east-west and north-south travel will we achieve the capacity and journey time benefits across the rail network that are at the heart of our vision for a truly interconnected North

Attempts have also been made to argue that spending on local transport links would be preferable to investment in national and regional infrastructure. However, creating local services which speedily deliver passengers into an unreliable and congested rail network is no more coherent a proposition than the idea of transporting people at speed across the North only for the last mile of their journey to be delayed by poor connections. Transport is a system and all parts of that system need to work.

Following decades of underinvestment we need a renewed commitment at the conclusion of the Spending Review to invest in the transport network at all levels, so we can deliver our vision for a North of England where more opportunities to work and learn and brought within travelling distance, where living in the suburbs of Manchester and working in Bradford, for example, is realistic. 

We should be optimistic about our prospects for success. Senior Government figures including the Rail Minister and the Northern Powerhouse Minister have publicly supported the project. Sir John Armitt, the Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, wrote in this newspaper of how HS2 and NPR “will generate economic growth and boost productivity for the North”. Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI said last week that HS2 “is seen as just about a North/South artery whereas we know the connection between Leeds and Manchester and all the parts of the North is what is really going to be unlocked by HS2.”

In the coming months we all have a part to play in ensuring the Government hears those arguments and understands the essential part HS2 has to play in helping the North close the 12.6 per cent productivity gap with the national average.

In doing so we can deliver a better future for all our communities and make a full contribution to the UK economy to the benefit of the whole country; the North is the solution, make no mistake.