The PM and Chancellor’s visit to Leeds this Monday to launch HS3 marked not only a greater focus from Central Government on the Northern economies, but also the first steps of a return to regional governance for transport, with the announcement of the creation of Transport for the North – a body that will cover the five city regions of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. Whilst this announcement follows hot on the heels of the City Growth Commission’s recommendations for greater devolution to Metro regions (a report which makes for interesting reading) the Government’s announcement is clearly focussed on the importance of HS2 and HS3 to rebalancing the London/North economies through the development of the “Northern Powerhouse”.
Sir David Higgins’ report “Rebalancing Britain – from HS2 towards a national transport strategy” sets out further thinking on the need for improved transport links to achieve agglomeration benefits in the North. Much of the mainstream media quotes a section of the report “Connectivity equals jobs. In my view, it is that simple” in their coverage of the announcement – a dangerous statement akin to the Field of Dreams premise that “If you build it, they will come”. Lessons learnt from other rail projects highlight that there are a multitude of conditions to be met before a rail project will deliver promised economic growth. (More on this at our upcoming HS2 conference)
The report also raises the prospect of the development of a coherent national transport strategy – something that many leading practitioners have been arguing for for years. There is plenty of scope for debate on the merits of the HS2 route options, but using this project as a lever to achieve a national transport strategy would be a very slick move.
Head of Technical Development