Earlier this month the Guardian published a comment piece from John Whitelegg claiming HS2 was a waste of money.
We responded in a piece published today on Guardian’s Local Government network blog.
HS2 will connect eight of our 10 largest cities, serving our regions, creating jobs and boosting our economy. We believe claims made last week by Professor Whitelegg that HS2 is a waste of money are simply not true.
Our research concludes that the first phase of HS2 alone, connecting my region with London, will create 22,000 jobs and £1.5bn per year to the West Midlands.
HS2 will cost approximately £2bn a year to build, similar to the current annual expenditure on Crossrail in London. The difference is that HS2, and its benefits, will reach far beyond the south east.
Overcrowded trains are not just a problem for commuters in and out of London. Passenger levels have doubled in less than a decade in the West Midlands. Professor Whitelegg pointed to the “rapid spread of video-conferencing” but this change in working habits has done nothing to dent rising demand for rail travel in the UK, with passenger levels increasing at 6% per year.
What is often overlooked by commentators is that HS2 allows us to move some of the fast services from our existing lines and free up space for desperately needed local and regional services. With fast, direct services between our regions and provision for more local and regional services the benefits will be enjoyed by local authorities and citizens across the regions. High speed rail is anything but a “rich person’s folly”.
Today it takes 1.5 hours to reach Manchester from Birmingham, and the route is increasingly busy. With HS2 this will be cut to 41 minutes. A journey to Leeds is similarly halved from around two hours to 57 minutes. Birmingham to London, the journey where extra capacity is needed most, is cut from one hour and 23 minutes to just 45 minutes.
When the second phase (from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds) is built we will have three high speed trains per hour to London, two per hour to Manchester and two per hour to the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds.
Further HS2 services will connect Birmingham with Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh using trains capable of running on both the high speed line and existing rail lines in the north.
By bringing our cities together, HS2 will help local authorities to boost growth in their areas. It will connect businesses and investors, improving public services by making towns and cities in the Midlands and north of England easier to access and more attractive to the private sector.
Put simply, HS2 allows our regions to work better together and become an engine for growth for our economy.
With work already underway on the £600m redeveloped transport hub in Birmingham New Street Station, a £65m runway extension at Birmingham Airport and a £127m extension of the Midland Metro tram system we are determined to make the most of this opportunity.