City Region must be 'HS2 ready' to ensure benefits are felt across City Region.
An announcement on the route of the HS2 high-speed rail link to Leeds and the location of the city’s new high-speed terminus is due to be made by HS2 Ltd. later this month (now in the New Year as announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Budget Statement).
Leeds is one of just five cities that will be directly linked to the new 250mph network. The City Region will benefit hugely from HS2’s sub 90-minute journey times from London and the extra capacity it will release for passenger and freight trains on our existing rail routes.
Research has shown that the HS2 high-speed rail route to Leeds would generate an estimated £2.3 billion of local productivity benefits in addition to the predicted £60 billion of standard national transport benefits. These benefits are what justify the £32bn cost of building the Y-shaped route through Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds in Yorkshire and to Manchester in the North West.
While quicker journey times will bring London and the Midlands nearer, opening up new markets and business opportunities, the extra capacity on our existing rail lines is hugely important. The East Coast Main Line is forecast to reach capacity in the 2020s and the cost of upgrading it would be likely to exceed that of HS2 but without the journey time benefits. HS2 will make possible faster, more frequent local passenger services between Leeds and growing population and business centres such as Wakefield, Sheffield and Doncaster. It will also provide the opportunity to move more freight by rail, which in turn would help to take traffic off the region’s already-crowded roads, reducing transport costs to business.
Strong business support
The Leeds City Region business community made clear its strong support for HS2 during the Government’s consultation period. Local submissions in favour outnumbered those from across the Pennines in Manchester by three to one. The Yorkshire Post mounted its high-profile ‘Fast Track to Yorkshire’ campaign and at a recent ‘Yorkshire Mafia’ business conference event at the Royal Armouries, 96% of delegates responding to a Metro questionnaire said they believed high-speed rail ‘will benefit business in Yorkshire’.
The current date for completion of HS2 to Leeds is 2032, many including HS2 Ltd. have said they would like to see that date brought closer. Yet, the City Region is forecast to start feeling the benefits much sooner. Once the route and station site are revealed, decisions about relocation and investment, both of which will result in new employment opportunities, will start to be influenced by the new connectivity high-speed rail represents.
However, for the advantages of Leeds being a high-speed city to be felt across the City Region, the existing transport network needs to be HS2-ready. The benefits of shrinking the 200-mile plus journey time from London to Leeds to under 1½ hours are reduced if it is then going to take almost half as long again to complete the less than 20-mile journey on to Halifax by local train.
City Region Leaders will be stressing to HS2 Ltd. that investment in the existing rail network is needed. They want to see the measures identified in the Yorkshire Rail Network Study implemented. The Study, which complements Network Railway’s Northern Hub project, identifies up to £12bn of vital economic benefits resulting from quicker journeys and improved business links, better commuter services, and more capacity for freight, that could be unlocked by improving the connectivity of the network.
Investing in these and other local transport improvements will demonstrate not only HS2 Ltd.’s appreciation of the importance of a high-speed link to the whole City Region but also the commitment of this and successive governments to ensuring the full HS2 network goes ahead and is completed.
More about the Yorkshire Rail Network Study
This article - written before Chancellor revealed route and station details will be announced in the New Year - appears in the latest issue of the Yorkshire Post Vision Magazine.