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It’s all about capacity, capacity, capacity

It’s all about capacity, capacity, capacity

🕔16.Sep 2013

Jerry Blackett, Chief Executive of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group, explains why HS2 was never about time or speed – without it we’ll be overwhelmed.

In hindsight the whole campaign to win hearts and minds in favour of HS2 picked the wrong benefit from the outset – an opinion endorsed by the transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

It focussed on speed – High Speed 2 – when it should really have been called High Capacity 1. Because this is the fundamental reason we need HS2.

It’s not just because it will cut 20 minutes from the journey between London and Birmingham. That is a bonus provided by new technology and time savings do carry valuable benefits. The fact is we need extra capacity to ease the huge burden that the West coast Main Line is carrying and to provide more rail capacity for freight (freight is currently taking scarce road-space when it would be better suited to movement by rail).

This should have been the focus from the outset – but hindsight is a great thing. And the economic benefits are stacking up.

Research by KPMG, commissioned by HS2 Ltd, showed that the West Midlands regional economy would benefit from an annual boost of £1.5bn to £3.1bn, compared to growth of £2.5bn to £2.8bn in Greater London, £600m to £1.3bn in Greater Manchester and £1bn in Leeds.

New analysis by KPMG reveals that HS2 could boost the country’s economy by £15 billion a year and that the regions will be the biggest winners from the project.

The report also gives a breakdown of the economic benefits for each HS2 city region, with variations in the impact on particular regions depending on competition between regions and how sensitive businesses are to differences in costs between places.

It shows that HS2 will give the Birmingham city region economy a yearly boost equivalent to 2.1-4.2 per cent of the city region’s GDP. For Manchester city region the figure is 0.8 per cent-1.7per cent, for Leeds city region, 1.6 per cent and for London 0.5 per cent.

The KPMG report is a ringing endorsement of everything those of us who support HS2 have been saying. Critics may say that the report is bound to be favourable because it was commissioned by HS2 Ltd. But KMPG’s work is independent from a firm of highly respected accountants whose results cannot be swayed.

The models they use are proven and open to scrutiny and they base their figures on the latest, accepted industry modelling techniques.

Most importantly, the north benefits twice as much as the south – HS2 bridges the north-south divide in more ways than one.

This tremendous news for the West Midlands highlights the benefits high speed rail and the additional capacity this will bring to our region.

We’ll be better connected – benefiting from fast, direct links with major UK and European cities and boosted by capacity released on our existing lines to run more freight and local services.

Research by Centro, the West Midlands transport authority, concluded HS2 will deliver more than 50,000 jobs to the West Midlands as benefits are increased by improvements to the regional network. The boost to local services by the capacity freed-up means businesses and individuals across the West Midlands benefit, even if they don’t plan to use the new line.

Centro is working with authorities across the region, including Solihull, southern Staffordshire and the Black Country, to look at links between Metro, existing rail, bus and cycle routes with high speed rail.

And, as transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said, the £42 billion budget is fixed – there is no blank cheque and another upgrade to the West Coast Main Line, which is already operating close to its limits, would be like ‘trying to run the M1 up a busy high street’.

The HS2 project is undoubtedly an engine for growth, helping to generate jobs, rebalance the economy and secure the country’s future prosperity.

The Public Accounts Committee’s report was hugely misleading because HS2 will give the capacity we need, running up to 18 trains per hour with each carrying as many as 1,100 passengers, and more than doubling the number of seats between London and Birmingham.

It will also improve connectivity, linking eight of Britain’s 10 largest cities, slashing journey times, serving one in five of the UK population, and integrating with the nation’s airports.

The project will enable regeneration. The Core Cities group predict that HS2 will underpin the delivery of 400,000 jobs. 70 per cent of jobs created by HS2 are expected to be outside London.

Alternative options to HS2 have been assessed and they confirm they will not deliver HS2’s objectives. There are no options which provide the step change in capacity that HS2 will deliver.

It has the potential to transform the region economically. In the short-term, the stimulus created by its construction will be an enormous boost. In the longer-term, the region becomes a much more viable prospect for potential investment, and we could see a massive benefit from migration further north.

And those critics who claim HS2 will take investment away from other transport schemes are simply wrong. As well as the KPMG report, Patrick McLoughlin underlined that the government is investing record amounts across the whole rail network and roads.

And, as he said, the case for HS2 is absolutely clear: without it, the key rail routes connecting London, the Midlands and the North will be overwhelmed.  The project will free up vital space on our railways for passengers and freight, generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and deliver better connections between our towns and cities.

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