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Dropping High Speed 2 Would Be Madness

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It is a simple fact that the current west coast mainline, the main rail artery connecting London with Birmingham and Manchester, cannot cope with the projected future demand of passengers and that there has to be major investment in new capacity. This additional capacity cannot be found be with tweaks to the existing network, but requires the construction of a new line. If we are building a new line it would make more sense for it to be a high speed line, rather than a conventional line.

Now we could just choose to ignore these facts and let the country struggle on with poor and creaking infrastructure, or we could plan and invest for the future, and do something at the same time to help support and regenerate the economy of the North and Midlands. The return on investment in High Speed Rail will not just be measured in ticket sales over the first decade of operation, but in the longer term economic investment it will bring into the areas that benefit from it.

There is an extraordinary argument made by people who are against High Speed 2, that good infrastructure allows strong areas of the economy to suck the economic life out of areas that are performing less successfully. If this were true, then presumably the best thing we could do for the economy o f the North West would be to close the M6. The London city region is one of the world's economic powerhouses, improving the speed and reliability of connections into this area from the rest of the country can only bring benefits.

My constituency of Folkestone and Hythe is already benefiting from the High Speed 1 line which links the Channel Tunnel to St Pancras Station in London. The journey time from Folkestone is now under an hour, rather than over an hour and a half on the conventional line. Rather than taking business out of the town it is bringing investment into the area. In fact, when you look at the 'Grow for It' campaign to support investment in East Kent, High Speed 1 is seen as the biggest single selling message in the campaign; it would be impossible to talk about economic regeneration in East Kent without focusing on High Speed 1.

On Monday this week, I was at an event in Folkestone where the Californian technology entrepreneur and former BBC Dragon's Den investor, Doug Richard, was opening a new centre of his School for Creative Start-ups. This investment into the burgeoning creative and digital sector in East Kent would not be happening without High Speed 1. This year unemployment has been falling faster in Folkestone and Hythe than the average across the South East, and High Speed 1 is undoubtedly a factor in this growth.

Many of the anti-High Speed 2 arguments are similar to those made against the Channel Tunnel when the Bill to build this vital piece of infrastructure made its way through the House of Commons in the 1980s. Then some MPs said that it was a Concorde age, that international rail travel would never be replaced by the train and there was no case for city to city journeys through the tunnel. They were wrong, with the train now dominating the London to Paris route in terms of passenger numbers. They questioned the investment when the tunnel would only shave a relatively small amount of time off the journey across the channel compared with the hovercraft; ignoring the idea that freight would make use of the tunnel and the connections into the rest of the country.

The benefits we see today of the investment in the Channel Tunnel comes in forms which were not imagined at the time, and the benefit to the economy is far greater than the ticket receipts picked up by Eurotunnel and Eurostar. It would also be hard to believe that the scale of regeneration in London's Docklands would have been possible without the construction of the Jubilee Line extension to the underground network. It will be the same with High Speed 2.