Boris Johnson has given the go-ahead in the House of Commons today to the High Speed 2 rail project, a move welcomed by regional business leaders – with caveats.
After weeks of speculation over the fate of the controversial scheme, which has been beset by spiraling costs and environmental concerns, the prime minister said the entire scheme would be delivered.
Roger Marsh, chair of NP11, the Northern Powerhouse business group, and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said:“The confirmation that HS2 will be built in full is a very welcome step in helping to transform the North’s critical infrastructure. HS2 is a major part of ongoing efforts to rebalance the national economy and will unlock further opportunities for the North to become a key driver for UK growth.
“In particular we welcome the commitment to delivering the eastern leg, which is critical to ensuring the full benefits of the scheme are felt across the North. We understand the need to review how this is delivered and have made the point previously that one option is to build from the North.
“The time for talking is over. We all have a stake in the successful delivery of an integrated, modern transport system, fit for 21st century Britain. Now is the time for us all to pull together and get behind this transformative scheme to ensure that its benefits are felt in the towns across the North.”
Last week, The Wildlife Trusts delivered a letter to the Prime Minister calling for the project to be reappraised. The letter was signed by 66,000 people. Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of campaigns and policy, said: “Nature is paying too high a price for HS2. We urged the Government to re-consider in the light of The Wildlife Trusts’ report which evidenced the serious risk that HS2 poses to nature – and to take notice of over 66,000 people who wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to review HS2. Today’s announcement means that it is more critical than ever that the whole project is redesigned – before HS2 creates a scar that can never heal.
“It is vital that HS2 does not devastate or destroy irreplaceable meadows, ancient woodlands and internationally important wetlands that are home to a huge range of wildlife, from barn owls to butterflies. Green and sustainable transport is vital, but the climate emergency will not be solved by making the nature crisis worse.
“As HS2 contractors get on with bulldozing and building, the public can help wildlife by being alert to works near them. Contact your local Wildlife Crime officer if you believe HS2 Ltd or contractors are undertaking works without permission. Wildlife Trusts along the route will continue to advise and engage with HS2 Ltd locally.”
James Heather, development director at U+I, the regeneration company leading Manchester’s transformative £1.4bn Mayfield development, which is located next to Manchester Piccadilly station, said: “HS2 is crucial to the future of our regional economy and the announcement today will remove the uncertainty over this landmark infrastructure project.
“Transport spending per head in the North already lags behind the South East so this investment in HS2 and hopefully also in Northern Powerhouse Rail is vital if we are serious about rebalancing the economy and moving to a more sustainable future.”
Chris Manka, North West regional chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “It is welcome that at long last a decision has been made to proceed with HS2, although we naturally have some concerns about the proposed future review for onward connections to Manchester and elsewhere.
“What we don’t want to see is the wider Northern area merely getting the leftover crumbs from the plate, and ultimately a second-class system compared to the south. We are desperately in need of a ‘levelled up’ railway system, with much greater capacity, and vastly improved connectivity east/west, that will help deliver more sustainable travel for all.
“Government and local stakeholders must now ensure that whatever HS2 ultimately looks like here, that we also get a future proof system able to meet the needs of users whichever direction they are travelling.”
Promotional video from HS2 Ltd
Dominic Pozzoni, director in the Manchester office of Colliers International, said: “The announcement that HS2 will go forward is key to unlocking investment opportunities across the UK and supporting the Government’s plans for regional economic rebalancing. Despite a history of faltering HS2 promises, the UK regional cities have been growing over the last decade as major corporations moved out of the costly capital to more affordable areas, sparking regeneration and an active commercial real estate market.
“This commitment sends a clear message that the whole of the UK is crucial to our collective economic success, just as new regulatory freedoms are now available to support UK businesses and economic development, now that the UK has left the EU. Regional UK governments increasingly appear to be aligned with central government thinking, hence a new optimism is not misplaced. Good intentions look very likely to be followed by concrete progress.
“While we understand the need for costs to be tightly managed and kept under control, any review of the proposed HS2 route between Birmingham and Manchester needs to be completed as soon as possible to ensure businesses and communities in the North West and further afield benefit from this investment in game-changing infrastructure.”
Guy Lawson, regional director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “The Government must now take steps to deliver on its promises and unleash investment in a range of schemes to level up the economy and deliver growth in the North West.
“The Government’s priorities must include the full delivery of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, which will transform the economic geography of the North West, creating new opportunities for businesses and communities alike.
“In terms of targeted investment, we would like to see a commitment to upgrading the Cumbria coast rail line, which would support the new mine near Whitehaven, as well as opening up other employment opportunities in West Cumbria.”
A Manchester Airport spokesman said: “Delivering an integrated High Speed North rail network will fast-track the rebalancing of the economy. The station at Manchester Airport, acting as a hub for the new network, will ensure millions more people across the North and the Midlands have access to high speed rail services and international markets.
“MAG welcomes the Government’s decision today. Planned correctly, HS2 together with High Speed North will provide an integrated high speed rail network direct from Manchester Airport to Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and the North East, and unleash the full potential of the Northern economy.
“The sooner High Speed North can be delivered, the better. Starting on its delivery quickly would mean that the North, as well as the South, benefits from new rail connections and capacity as soon as possible.”
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “The Prime Minister has today listened and gone a considerable distance towards the case I made at the weekend for a new, integrated East – West – North – South railway for the North of England. That is why I welcome what he has announced today.
“However, there are a number of issues on which we are seeking further clarification.
“First – Manchester Piccadilly. While we support HS2 in principle, it was designed as a North – South railway and consequently has never offered right solution for new, modern East – West links at Manchester Piccadilly. There is now an opportunity to get that right and we ask the government to work with us on a redesign of Manchester Piccadilly station, based on analysis commissioned by Sir Richard Leese and Manchester City Council.
“Second – timetable. The Prime Minister gave a firm timetable for HS2 from London to Birmingham, however there was no such commitment for the North. We want to see the construction of Northern Powerhouse Rail fast-tracked, in line with the commitment the Prime Minister made in Manchester shortly after entering office. We cannot be left waiting years for this investment and the resulting jobs.
“Third – line of route for Northern Powerhouse Rail. While we were pleased to hear mention of high-speed rail to Liverpool we notice that Prime Minister did not mention Bradford. This is important because the Bradford route means that Northern Powerhouse Rail will be a brand new line serving Liverpool, Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly, Bradford and Leeds – which is the clear preference of Northern Leaders.
“Finally, big promises on future infrastructure must not distract from the need to urgently upgrade our creaking Victorian railway, which is ruining journeys on a daily basis. The creation of two new platforms at Piccadilly is a shovel ready project that will benefit the whole North. The government needs to stop dragging its feet on this and get these platforms built.”