‘Opportunity from HS2 is too big to miss’

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IN my first three months as chairman at HS2 Ltd, I’ve spent time travelling to the towns and cities that the new high speed railway will serve.

Speaking with local businesses, politicians and civic groups about the programme, I’ve been struck by both their passion and desire for HS2.

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All around the country plans are being drawn up for how regions and cities take advantage of the opportunity presented by the new project, and it’s important that they do.

Our transport system is irrevocably linked to the big decisions that every region is making. This includes housing, regeneration, attracting and retaining business, and creating and harnessing a talent pool so that local industries can thrive.

HS2 will serve over 25 stations from Scotland to the South East, representing almost half of the UK population and economy.

The ability to connect people, places, goods and services is at the heart of any successful economic plan and that’s why Britain, and Yorkshire, need HS2.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority is a leading light in developing exciting plans on the back of HS2. Its Leeds City Region Growth Strategy will see many thousands of jobs created and homes built that can help transform the region. This is at the heart of what HS2 is about – creating a fairer, more balanced country with prosperity spread beyond just the South East.

South Yorkshire aren’t far away from setting out their own vision too. This is HS2 at its best, local leaders taking hold of the opportunity and making it work for the people we serve.

The journey to 2033, when the railway will be complete, is well underway, but we don’t need to wait until then for benefits to arrive. Two thousand businesses and 7,000 jobs are already supported through the project and when construction peaks, as the full network progresses, that figure is forecast to rise to 30,000. That boost to British business is being felt across the country and includes 93 companies right here in Yorkshire. Over 100 apprentices are working with us right now, and we’ve committed to ensuring that at least 2,000 apprenticeship opportunities are created as we continue to progress. My experience on other projects suggests this is a conservative estimate and we’ll in fact go much further.

Yorkshire can be at the heart of this jobs and skills boom, with the National College for High Speed Rail based in Doncaster. I’m extremely proud of our apprentices and the fact that they represent a mix of people taking their first steps into the world of work, those who wanted a change in career– or those seeking new opportunities.

HS2 can – and is – changing people’s lives for the better, giving them skills and knowledge that will last a lifetime. These are skills that can see Britain regain its engineering crown and export to the rest of the world.HS2 will become a defining moment in this country’s proud railway heritage, just as Stephenson’s steam powered locomotives were when they took to the tracks two centuries ago. Our trains will be more reliable than anything we have seen in this country before, and they’ll be designed for the passenger. But you won’t even have to ride it to feel the travel benefits. Capacity released by HS2 means space for more trains on the exiting lines for commuters, local trains and freight.

The whole point of HS2 is that it integrates into the existing network, so that we have a better connected, more reliable system which has the capacity to serve communities for decades to come.

When HS2 trains leave our new purpose-built track, they will connect to the East Coast Main Line and West Coast Main Line, serving towns and cities along the route right up through Edinburgh and Glasgow. The need for an integrated railway couldn’t be more crucial than it is in the North. It’s not a question of HS2, or HS3, we need both.

Our plans for the phase two programme, which will extend the new railway from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, are driven by that need for integration. Ensuring that Northern Powerhouse Rail’s proposals are reflected into the bid we present to Parliament in two years’ time shows the holistic approach we’re taking and the vital role that we’re playing in ensuring the North gets the transport system it needs to thrive.

I’ve worked in this sector for some time. Few know better than me that this prize does not come without a price. As an organisation we need to work hard to make sure that when we impact on people and communities, we find ways to lessen those impacts. That’s our challenge over the next few years. To find ways to ensure we leave a positive legacy on the environment, to make sure construction isn’t just disruptive and to ensure people are treated fairly.

I am under no illusion that there is some way to go to making this vision a reality, but the opportunity HS2 provides to Yorkshire, to the country, is too big to miss. What HS2 can achieve can’t be under-estimated. Together, we can make it a success.

Sir Terry Morgan, chairman of HS2 Ltd