Today, five Northern City Councils (Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle) have published the ‘One North’ report in response to Sir David Higgins’ call for transport proposals so that the north can ‘get the best out of HS2’. The report represents a massive shift in spin in the run-up to the General Election, as while it has been claimed that HS2 would ‘rebalance the economy’ for the last four years, now it is claimed that actually spending money in the North of England will create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, with the claim that improved East-West links give the same benefits of HS2 for fraction of the cost.
Unlike the £50bn earmarked for HS2, the £10-15 billion One North package calls for investment in an integrated multi-modal transport, in roads, inter-city rail, regional rail and digital infrastructure.
As part of the proposed £15bn spend, £5bn has been earmarked to provide a new Trans-Pennine route, despite the fact that two new Trans-Pennine routes could be created for about a tenth of the cost by restoring 27 miles consisting of the Skipton-Colne and Woodhead lines. This year, a report from ARUP showed the 11 mile Skipton-Colne route could be reopened with four tracks for just £110m, while the Northern Way previously calculated reopening the Woodhead Line would be worth £10bn to the national economy. The One North report suggests the speed of a new Trans-Pennine route would be 125mph, the same as the current West Coast Mail Line, half the design speed of HS2.
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said:
“Reading the report, it’s clear that HS2 from London to Birmingham is not a priority for the Northern cities. What they want is better connectivity in the North, across all modes. People in the North want better roads, better freight access, and better east-west connectivity. They won’t get these from HS2.”
“Included in the report is the suggestion that in some areas, local trains will have to be reduced to make way for HS2 trains. With the acknowledgement in the report that direct trains are important for passengers, this will be of real concern to local people.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“No matter how it is being spun, this report is an admission that HS2 will do nothing for the North and that to develop economic regeneration in the North, you actually have to spend money in the North. It is just a shame that the people who have followed the example set down by HS2, to look for the highest cost least benefit solution. Instead of spending £5bn on one new Trans- Pennine route, you could spend about a tenth of that amount and reopen two of them by restoring 27 miles of railway, reopening the Woodhead line and the route between Colne and Skipton.”
“The problem up until now has been that Northern Cities have been offered HS2 or nothing, so naturally they have supported HS2. David Higgins wanted proposals which would complement HS2, but the reality is that these proposals undermine HS2. Now that the option of actually spending money directly in the North is on the table, and getting more benefits from spending less money, I would expect support for HS2 to drain away.”