The government talks about the need to build HS2 so as to reduce the North-south divide. But they should be asking what sort of transport links people in the regions want to enable their region to have economic growth.
For instance, earlier this week, the North East Chamber of Commerce accused the Government of “backtracking” on its previous decision to ensure good links between the North East and the rest of the UK, over the cancellation of the A1 Leeming to Barton upgrade in Yorkshire. This is in spite of the Governemnt having recognised the route as being of national significance.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive at the Chamber, said
“For the foreseeable future the North East will remain the only English region not connected to the strategic motorway network, and one of the few regions in the UK not seeing any major upgrades to its strategic road network before 2015,” Mr Ramsbotham said.
The Department for Transport were able to list a few other plans it had not cancelled: “for example the £350m refurbishment of the Tyne & Wear Metro will continue, the Sunderland Strategic Corridor and the Morpeth Northern By-Pass are still in the running to receive their share of over £600m, the plans for High Speed 2 will bring economic benefits to the whole of the country.”
So what will HS2 do for Newcastle? The “Economic Case for HS2” (p10) lists Newcastle as one of the places that will get faster journeys if HS2 goes ahead. They say that the journey time to London will reduce from 2 hours 52 minutes to 2 hours 37 minutes. That’s a 15 minute time saving from a £33 billion pound project – or about £2 billion pounds per minute saved.
Except the HS2 document is already out of date, with it’s journey times. The new Flying Scotsman service will take travellers non-stop from Newcastle to London in 2 hours 37 minutes – the same time as HS2 promises.
Of course, HS2 is not the only way that rail services can be improved. A far less glamourous project in the Newcastle area has been finished, the restoration of track at Boldon East Curve, enabling freight trains better access between the Port of Tyne and the East Coast Main Line.
According to Port of Tyne Chief Executive Officer Andrew Moffat, this £1.6 million project “has the potential to increase passenger train capacity on the East Coast main line.”
Other cheaper transport projects clearly benefit the North-East: HS2 is as fast as existing trains, but costs £33 billion and doesn’t even reach the Newcastle area. So why should Newcastle support HS2?