The Conservatives are insisting that the High-Speed 2 rail-link, at a current cost of around £50 billion, will bring immeasurable economic benefits to the Midlands and the North because it will become more interconnected with the most prosperous region of the country- the South East and London. The government is also refusing the countenance the idea of starting construction in the North of England and working its way towards London, thus continuing to propagate the idea of the Conservatives only caring about the South East and marginal constituencies in the Midlands.
A report out from the Woodland Trust has shown that the current HS2 route will destroy more ancient woodland than previously thought, which will only increase opposition from nature and conservation groups. As I have mentioned in a previous post, a left-wing political party attempting to get into government shouldn’t oppose HS2, it should actually support the idea but suggest a change of location to link up the major northern cities and rebalance the economy; by focussing investment in the North the environment of the South East will be preserved and a left-wing party would become much more popular in Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns.
By proposing an alternative route to the current one linking London with Birmingham and eventually the North, a party would have the ability to announce its commitment to investing in infrastructure whilst also allaying the fears of those countryside-enthusiasts in the South East.
The route that I would recommend would be having the line start in Liverpool and go eastwards to Manchester, Leeds, York and Hull; by investing exclusively in the North there is no risk of capital flowing toward the South East, as is currently a concern, and the costs of labour would be reduced due to the fact that labour costs in London are slightly higher. Furthermore I believe that there will be less environmental damage as the money saved could be put towards putting the line in a tunnel, thus preserving the natural landscape, and the geographical change was also prevent the destruction of much of the ancient woodland that is currently under threat.
HS2, if relocated to the North, would be part of a wider approach to regenerate the region as the jobs created to construct and maintain the railway alone would reduce economic deprivation; the secondary impacts of the line’s relocation would be that private sector entities will be able to use the railway make new markets along the line more fiscally viable.
Proponents of HS2 like myself are keen to see this technology harnessed and developed, however it is also essential that this technology arrives in London after a number of other regions in order to prevent capital from flowing directly toward London thus leaving the other areas alone the line in greater economic deprivation. Because of our support for the technology, in principle, it is important to begin linking up other parts of the country in the same way.
Politicians are already speaking of an HS3 line which would appear to be along the same lines as my proposal for a different HS2 route would be. It would be much better, in my view, if an HS3 line linked up the South West with Wales and the Midlands; a Y-shaped route going from Truro via Plymouth and Exeter to Bristol before splitting to go eastwards to Cardiff and Swansea or to go further northwards to Birmingham via Gloucester. Such a route would encourage tourism in Cornwall as well as job creation in the South West, Wales and the Midlands without improving the ability for businesses to move to London increasing the North-South divide in the process.
Along with this third high-speed rail-line, a party wishing to regain power must also seen to be ruling for the whole of the UK (until the British state eventually whithers and dies like an unwatered pot plant). Therefore, although there are not necessarily many votes in it for a Westminster-based party, I would also like to stake a claim for what I’m calling the ‘All-Ireland Railway’. Despite the name appearing as if it was first coined in the Industrial Revolution, the railway would be another high-speed rail-link but would be focussed on improving the economic development across Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic; just like my suggestion of HS2 in avoiding London, the Irish rail-link would deliberately avoid Belfast and Dublin in order to create jobs and economic opportunities in areas away from the two capitals.
The route I would suggest would go from Derry in the North down to Omagh and Enniskellen before crossing the border and going to Sligo, Castlebar and finishing in Galway. By providing a faster route to Northern Ireland businesses in southern and western Ireland will be able to access that market more easily and jobs will be directly created in Northern Ireland, which is often ignored by Westminster due to the lack of electoral benefit such investment would bring. As well as the economic benefits there are also environmental benefits, as there would be less of a need for short-haul flights, and many social benefits as people in the North will be able to more easily visit relatives and friends in the Republic.
By proposing that HS2 have its route changed, the North of England will be able to see all of the economic benefits of the railway without businesses having access to London which may see capital move towards the South East, which is already the most prosperous area of the country. Similar railways constructed in the South West and in Ireland would improve these areas which are among the most economically deprived across the British Isles.
In the South East opposition to HS2 is largely based on the damage to local communities and the countryside, and UKIP has attempted to co-opt this opposition through its policy to reverse the construction if in the thankfully unlikely event of them being swept into a position of power. If a left-wing party were to take on HS2 as their issue by moving it to the North it would kill two birds with one stone; it would become more popular in the Tory heartlands in the South East and would improve the lives of people living in the more left-leaning North.
With the economy being rebalanced away from the success of London, the policy could also be marketed to London as beneficial to the capital in the long-term as less migration from other parts of the UK would reduce the strain on services like schools, hospitals and transport. And with reduced pressures on these services the perpetual cycle of increased investment in London to cope with demand, which in turn increases the number of people migrating for employment thus increasing demand on services, is broken, freeing that same government money to be invested elsewhere.