OPINION
05/11/2019 11:05 GMT | Updated 05/11/2019 11:06 GMT

HS2 Is The Only Way To Address The North-South Divide

It would be a backward-looking and a short-sighted mistake if we cancelled this transformational railway project, MPs Lucy Powell and John Stevenson write.

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HS2

We each represent two very different political parties, but we agree about one thing, even as an election is about to commence: that HS2 is vital to fundamentally addressing the North-South divide, for the UK to go green and to ensure that the country is equipped to play its part in the global economy.

Transport connectivity plays a significant part in determining people’s life chances – indeed London’s integrated transport network has created an abundance of opportunities for its inhabitants. So, when the prime minister says that he wants to “unlock talent in every corner of the UK” to “release the economic potential of the whole country”, as MPs representing Manchester and Carlisle respectively, we very much welcome this statement.  

But in a UK that is still divided, with inequalities of prosperity and opportunity between the North and the South, it would be a backward-looking and a short-sighted mistake if we cancelled this transformational railway project. 

The construction of HS2, connecting London all the way to Glasgow, is such an exciting project and it couldn’t be happening at a more important moment in our country’s history.

As we leave the European Union, it’s vital to ensure that every part of our country is firing on all cylinders. HS2 will turn great cities, like Manchester and Carlisle, into inter-connected economic powerhouses, helping us to excel into the 2020s and beyond. 

It will tackle the division between North and South, bringing Britain together with the first new North-South railway in a hundred years. How can it be right that it is quicker to travel the almost three hundred miles from London to Paris by train than it is to travel less than half that between Liverpool and Hull? 

HS2 will almost halve the journey time from Manchester to London and will cement Carlisle’s position as a regional capital. But it’s not just about getting us down to London quicker.

It’s as much about migration from the South to the North. Our cities are thriving, with world-class universities, teaching hospitals, cultural attractions, iconic museums and theatres, not to mention the huge number of major global enterprises that base themselves here, like Pirelli, McVitie’s, the BBC and Kellogg’s.  

By making it easier for consumers and businesses from the South to get up to Manchester, HS2 has the potential to double the region’s economic output, delivering almost a hundred thousand jobs and up to 17,000 new homes.  

It has the potential to add an additional £40 million a year to Carlisle’s regional economy, and will ensure that commuting between Glasgow and London, Hadrian’s Wall and South West Scotland, will all become much easier. Cumbria and its hinterlands would be opened up to knock on benefits such as more sustainable tourism, reducing the number of cars visiting the Lake District, which is becoming increasingly problematic at a local level.  And all this is before we even talk about the East West connectivity delivered through Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR). 

NPR will unlock the economic potential of the North by making it much easier to move between the region’s towns and cities.  But for us to finally have those efficient routes between Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Leeds we need HS2 first.  For example, to achieve a 30 minute journey between Manchester and Liverpool, NPR needs to make use of HS2’s 13km tunnel in Manchester. Without HS2’s infrastructure, all this will take far longer and cost much more.

Anyone who travels regularly on the West Coast Mainline service, as we do, will know that we are running out of room. HS2 will free up capacity on these existing lines, improving connections to and between major cities and shifting a much greater proportion of freight to rail, improving service punctuality and alleviating crowding.  HS2 is the only way of tackling the capacity crunch and improving journey times.  

But it will also play a major part in HS2 is also key to Britain’s green, low-carbon future. If we are to tackle the climate change emergency and deliver net zero carbon emissions by 2050, we must build HS2. Cars emit more than eight times as much and planes pump out twenty times as many harmful gases into the Earth’s atmosphere.  Let’s get people out of cars and planes and onto trains instead.

Think of all those flights from Glasgow to London that we will be able to ditch. These figures will only become starker as we de-carbonise more of our electrical power generation. Once electrical power generation is fully decarbonised, high-speed rail will be a carbon zero activity. Without HS2 we will never get there. 

Leading local businesses and employers tell us that HS2 will create centres of thriving economic activity in the North, which will attract new business, as well as enable them to lower their costs, creating an incentive for them to boost investment and jobs.  And of course HS2 creates thousands of jobs.

Nine thousand people are currently employed by HS2, 30,000 are set to start work in the months and years ahead and hundreds of thousands work in HS2-related programmes.  Not only will HS2 rebalance our economy but it will deliver high-skilled jobs, prosperity and security for families in every region of the UK for decades to come.

Cities and towns like ours are already developing their urban strategies to drive growth and have secured major investment simply because of HS2.  Pulling the plug on HS2 would drive this investment away.

So it’s time to think big and to think beyond the next five to ten years.  Of course we need to ensure, as part of the Government’s HS2 review, that the taxpayer is achieving value for money. 

But if we are to empower the North, fire up the Northern Powerhouse and bring transformational benefits to all parts of the UK to match our unparalleled ambitions, we must have HS2 all the way.

Lucy Powell is Labour MP for Manchester Central and John Stevenson is Conservative MP for Carlisle.