The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport, announced this week the Government’s decision to go ahead with the High Speed Rail proposal, HS2. Phase one of the route between London and Birmingham should be up and running by 2026 with the routes to Manchester and Leeds ready for 2032/3.
The capital cost of these sections will be £32.7 billion with current estimates stating it will generate benefits of up to £47 billion and fare revenues of up to £34 billion over a 60-year period.
But is the time right for this initiative?
On the whole, budgets have become limited and funding more scarce. As our report, Access All Areas, shows, in such difficult economic times it is imperative that city centres can attract high value employment and overcome labour market spatial mismatches through a coordinated, integrated and improved transport infrastructure.
Unfortunately, many cities still need to vastly improve its local infrastructure to ensure efficiency and efficacy.
As a result, the largest benefit to people who live in cities and their hinterlands would come from local infrastructure improvements. This would fit nicely with the City Deals agenda in boosting cities’ economic growth and should, therefore, be the Government’s priority.
Furthermore, consistently delaying the decision on HS2 has led to budgetary uncertainty. By moving the HS2 decision back other much needed local infrastructure projects have lacked full government support and have been unable to begin. Now the decision has been made, will this financial commitment over the coming decades hamper arguably more beneficial local projects?
With this in mind, a faster rail link between London and the core cities should certainly be considered in the long term but only once local and regional infrastructure issues have first been resolved.