I will start this article by saying, HS2 must be built. It is going to be arguably the biggest and most important infrastructure project that the country embarks on this century. It is central to the government’s ‘Levelling up’ programme and is set to reduce regional inequalities and bring the biggest cities of the UK closer than ever before.
I don’t agree with the governments redesigned plans that have cut the Eastern leg to Leeds; having two hubs in the North for HS2 is exactly what is needed to make sure that investment in the north of England is spread throughout our great northern cities and not centred in Manchester. The result of cutting the Eastern leg will be that Manchester is likely to become the London of the North. This is because it will likely vacuum up most regional investment due to it being only 71 minutes from London on a HS2 train, where as London to Leeds will be nearer the two-hour mark.
The HS2 network is being built along with the new Northern Powerhouse Rail, a network which has been nicknamed ‘Crossrail of the North’. It is planned that this network will integrate travel between the Northern cities of the UK. The north of England has been crying out for a plan on rail travel within the region. Having lived in the North West for four years, I can vouch that the regional travel within the North of England desperately lags behind that of the South of England.
Those opposed to HS2 talk of the environmental consequences we will face having to build a new line that will tear up parts of our countryside. However, we cannot sit on our hands forever and just expect regional inequalities to be lowered without the relevant infrastructure being built.
Furthermore, rail travel is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transport that exists. Critics also talk of the cost of HS2, which is between £72-96 billion (this was estimated before the Leeds leg was scrapped), which is a lot of money. However, I would argue that it is the dithering over the past decade over whether to build HS2 that is the reason it is so high. At the 2010 election it was estimated the project would cost £20 billion. If we hesitate any longer not only will the costs continue to rise but regional inequalities will get worse – infrastructure such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail must be built.
People living near where the line is being built aren’t happy either and their grievances must not be overlooked. Local environments should try to be preserved as much as possible and local stakeholders must be included in the process of building the lines throughout our countryside.
However, this project is in the national interest, and this is just a classic case of NIMBYism. It is an issue which has stifled the housing industry in this country for decades and a reason myself and my peers likely won’t get on the housing ladder till at least our 40’s, unlike the older generations.
Recently there has also been talk of building an overground station for HS2 in Manchester, as opposed to the planned underground station. This would save around £5 billion pounds, but local leaders in Manchester claim that this will stifle the local economy while at the same time not offering much more capacity to the local transport network.
Having lived in Manchester for four years I can understand where they are coming from and I do have sympathies with them. According to Manchester City Council, it is estimated that around 14,000 jobs could be created if the land was used for commercial use instead of the proposed overground station. So, my view is that we should stick with the existing proposal for an underground station which will provide longer term benefits for the local economy.
HS2 is a vital project which must be built if Britain is really going to ‘Level up’ and move itself into the 21st century. Many other developed economies already have thousands of KM of high-speed rail already built and if Britain wants to keep up with these economies it is vital that the right infrastructure is built to make sure Britain doesn’t begin to lag behind on the global stage.