HS Who

Peter Vinden investigates why HS2 continues to fail to change public perceptions.

This week, our political leaders have been out in force, bringing their 2015 manifestos to every corner of the UK in preparation for the one-month election countdown.

As each party races towards the final ballot, one of the most important votes to secure is that of the construction industry. Numerous pledges for more housebuilding schemes and increased emphasis on the skills shortage have been made in recent years, but this has not been enough to weather the industry drought.

However, there is a solution for the major political parties: HS2. With claims that the £50 billion scheme will address everything from youth unemployment and stalled construction figures to workforce migration from North to South, it appears that plans for the hugely unpopular project may be on track.

The proposed solutions would be encouraging if it weren’t for the fact that so few people agree with our politicians. According to survey results released last week, only one in every 100 people in the North West regard HS2 as a government spending priority, with 43 percent putting it at the bottom of their list. These sentiments were echoed by the House of Lords, which stated that it had yet to hear a “convincing case” that the project was capable of increasing railway capacity and rebalancing the economies of the North and South.

So, what’s the reason for such a schism between leaders and voters on this issue? When Labour and the Conservatives champion new rail as a key component of their employment, infrastructure, development, and economic policies, could those who oppose be distracted by the financial costs and ignoring the long-term benefits?

In a nutshell, no. As a North West-based construction company, my first question in response to the current HS2 debate is why shortening a two-hour journey to one would take precedence over improving road and rail infrastructure throughout the northern regions, which would surely be the best approach to tackling construction figures.

Anyone who has ridden a commuter train between Bolton, Manchester, Salford, or any of their neighbouring towns will tell you that there is still a need for infrastructure improvements and skilled workers. It is unclear why the opportunities for skilled apprentices and regional construction firms are limited to a single scheme with projected costs of up to £100 billion.

Aside from the unconvincing construction arguments, many people believe HS2 will do the opposite of what it promises, and will encourage migration from the North West to the South in search of work. When Manchester has just received new devolved powers in terms of urban planning, infrastructure, and transportation, it appears to be a step back to channel such a large investment into connecting London by an hour.

What we are seeing in the HS2 plan is increased support for large construction firms and London businesses at a time when the North West is more capable than ever of controlling its own destiny. The devolution of Manchester has encouraged increased engagement among the other major northern cities, as well as addressing the need for development in Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, and the towns in between.

With such progress in mind, providing high-quality inter-city connections between northern cities and regions would almost certainly be a more profitable use of public funds. Discussions about HS3 have at least shifted attention to the North’s regional network, which is being recognised in conjunction with a number of other development initiatives, such as housing and local infrastructure.

Internal Insulation

Presenting HS2 as a preventative measure for employment and construction figures in the region is, at best, misguided, and, at worst, deceptive. While we may all agree that the northern route to recovery is the quickest, we must remove the distraction of this costly scheme and promote more construction and connectivity in the areas that need it.

Last Updated on December 28, 2021


Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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