'It's hard not to be cynical' - HS2 used as 'Tory political football' claims

HS2 has been used as a “political football in the Tory leadership contest” and could be taken advantage of again, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake has warned.

By Geraldine Scott
Tuesday, 24th September 2019, 5:45 pm
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald (fourth from right) with MPs, councillors, and candidates in support of delivering both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. Photo: Geraldine Scott
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald (fourth from right) with MPs, councillors, and candidates in support of delivering both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. Photo: Geraldine Scott

A fringe event at Labour’s party conference in Brighton heard today from leaders from across the route of HS2, as well as the Maria Machancoses, Director of Midlands Connect.

Addressing the review into the scheme announced by the Government in August - which could lead to the project being scrapped - Ms Blake said: “I have no problem with there being a review into it, I think it’s our opportunity to tell the story of the importance to all of us in the course of this for this project to go ahead.”

But she said: “The core ambition of HS2 should remain intact. It’s absolutely crucial for us.”

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While Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “If the Government is serious about rebalancing the entire economy and addressing the agenda that arose from the referendum in 2016 - which we are still feeling the consequences of - the neglecting of the Midlands and the North must come to an end, and the way to do that is to invest in transport infrastructure.”

Ms Blake added: “I think it’s hard not to be cynical about the timing of the review within the political situation, and I think we just have to acknowledge that. But having said that the people on the review are very, very serious indeed and they are putting hours and hours and hours in, they’ve been making rounds to visit all of us and they’re really looking into it in great detail.

“But I think the argument that we have to keep coming back to is this just historic decades of chronic underfunding to areas outside of London, we absolutely have to stand together and say that this really is not good enough.”

Ms Blake said her real concern was that if the review concluded that HS2 would be scrapped, there had been no alternative proposed.

She said: “This is simply not good enough.”

Mr Ward added: “I don’t know of any alternative to this investment. I was at a similar event yesterday and somebody asked a question about what’s plan B, I think that question needs to be put to the government not local politicians, we’ve committed to this, we’ve been committed for 10 years, and if the Government are not going to do it they need to come up with a plan B and then demonstrate how plan B will deliver all of these benefits. I don’t think there is a plan B.”

It comes as Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald supported delivering both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

He said: “It’s not one or the other, we’ve got to look at both and we’ve got to deliver both.

“They're both critical for delivering the economic benefits the north of England and indeed to the Midlands. So it's essential that the programmes are roll together, as far as I'm concerned.

“The [House of] Lords looked into this in their Select Committee report, and I agree with them, they also said that it should have been started in the North and you know, and they've got a point, but we are where we are And the project has started and many jobs are already engaged in it.

“And there are more jobs to come not only in the construction of the project, but in the economic regeneration that it delivers.

“But this is important for us, because it will release capacity on our conventional lines, it will give us the opportunity to get that modal shift from road to rail. And also when the project is completed, it will obviate the need entirely for internal aviation in the United Kingdom. These are climatic imperatives that we've got to observe.”

He added: “I think we've got to fulfil all our ambitions in terms of improved rail across the country. But I would just gently say that London has had the benefit of massive investments.

“And there's a real deficit in comparison between the investment in the south of England as compared with the North, our productivity in the North is massively behind that of the South, and the absence of appropriate investment in infrastructure is part of that. We can't keep on overheating the southeast of England.”