HS2 will serve the communities of tomorrow

24th January, 2012 2:25 pm

It’s sometimes good to reflect on any major policy announcement, particularly one that commits to £32 Bn of tax payers (our) hard earned money.

Going to work 2 weeks ago, I read every day about HS2: the pros and cons and knee jerk reactions (both for and against).

I’ve now heard nothing about it for 10 days, but having had time to think I would argue that HS2 is, a fantastic project, one that harks back to the height of British civilization while embracing the technology and aspiration of the country’s future.

It is also a project of which Labour can be proud. It was our party which conceived, designed, embraced and continued to push for HS2 even when evicted from government. David Cameron may be the man to rubber stamp it, but it was a Labour government which had the foresight and ambition to initiate this grand venture.

Many will argue that at times of austerity, £32 billion is a huge amount to spend to shave minutes off the journeys of commuters. However, it is exactly these times that call for a healthy dose of hope and ambition to go with the grinding realism of financial vigilance.

HS2 will not have an immediate impact and may not be operational for many years. This has been another source of sustained criticism but in fact offers a rare opportunity for long termism.

The proposals currently run from London to Birmingham, with an eventual Y shaped route to the north. While many along the route have taken issue with the potential side effects of new high speed trains, many more in my local area have much more practical concerns. They see the obvious benefits and are excited by the prospects of trade, mobility and technology on their doorstep. But all this means nothing if the route does not serve those which it passes.

Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Scotland have all featured heavily in the debate on HS2. This has meant the East Midlands has been forgotten as more fashionable locations occupy the attentions of decision makers. The residents of these picturesque lands have not taken the nimbyist approach favoured by many in the more southern Tory shires. But their concerns demand attention. A stop in the East Midlands will offer a real boost to areas that do not boast such a flagship city to catch the eye of national politicians but offers a huge amount to the economy.

The fact is that the East Midlands has a very tortuous and slow rail coneection to the south. The Midland line was built in Victorian times to shift millions of tons of coal and did that well for over 100 years. However, as a passenger carrying line, linking into continental systems it is too slow and of low capacity, simply put it is no longer fit for purpose. If we are to compete with cities such as Cologne, Barcelona, Lyon and Dresden then we must join the high speed club. Air travel is unsustainable and the M1 motorway suffers severe congestion with unreliable journey times.

The Labour led and controlled councils around Nottingham recognise this. Nottingham City Council fully endorse HS2 and Broxtowe Borough Council, in whose area a terminal may well be built, passed an early motion which:

“Welcomes the commitment of the government to move ahead with the building of the HS2 rail link. The Council calls on the government to ensure that Greater Nottingham is included within the scheme and commits itself to working with all interested parties to explore the possibilities for developing a new station for HS2 within Broxtowe.”

Labour has led the charge on HS2 since the very start. It has bravely continued its promotion of the issue in the face of hesitance by a sceptical public and short sighted government. The decision to go ahead was a victory for the party, albeit one that will not be recognised by the chattering classes of pundits and the media. Now is not the time to lay back and think of a job well done. There are those who would benefit massively from HS2 but who need someone to listen and to act. And that’s what Labour has always been good at.

If during the next 14 years until the HS2 line is built we can use this major public investment in rail infrastructure to kick start the wider debate on the environmental, economic and social benefits of the importance of affordable public transport and how it benefits everyone – we’ll all be the better for it.

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