|Theresa Villiers MP|
As we previously reported, the public consultation on the Government's proposed high-speed rail line between London, Birmingham and the north of England will close on 29th July.
Speaking in the House of Commons this week, Minister of State for Transport Theresa Villiers backed Lancaster MP Eric Ollerneshaw's support for the scheme.
"A fundamental reason for our need for high-speed rail is to deliver the capacity we need to meet the growing demand for inter-city travel," she argued. "Despite significant capacity upgrades in recent years, with more to come on the west coast, Network Rail predicts that the line will be pretty much full by 2024. That saturation point could come earlier.
"If we fail to provide the capacity we need, we will significantly hinder economic growth and worsen the north-south divide. No Government can afford to sit back and ignore that.
"High-speed rail can provide the capacity we need, as well as shrinking journey times between our major population centres, spreading prosperity and creating jobs, without a net increase in carbon emissions... that is just the sort of sustainable growth we need.
"High-speed rail will reshape our economic geography and start to tackle and reduce the economic divide between north and south, as my hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood and for Pudsey pointed out," she added. "The full Y-shaped network is expected to generate about £44 billion for the economy. We are convinced that high-speed rail will do a tremendous amount to integrate the economies of Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, and to spread prosperity well beyond the cities that are directly served by the line, including destinations in north Wales.
"We believe that the country should aspire for the future to a genuinely national network, which we hope, of course, will include Wales and Scotland. However, long before that point, passengers in Scotland are expected to benefit significantly from shorter journey times resulting from the Y-shaped network, with journeys of 3.5 hours from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London providing an attractive alternative to flights."
Speaking in May in a Business debate, Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw argued that transport infrastructure is also necessary for businesses to thrive. "The coalition has done well in that area so far," he felt. "After years of underinvestment in our transport network under Labour, in just one year there has been a lot of good news for the north-west, and for my constituents in particular. The renewal of the west coast franchise offers extra capacity for the overcrowded rail services on that route.
"In the longer term, High Speed 2 offers more capacity, speed and choice for journeys to London and, ultimately, Scotland. It might also open a direct link to Heathrow and the channel tunnel."
Mr Ollerenshaw also argues investment new rail capacity should begin now, rather than wait for HS2. "We should start the other way round by building now from Glasgow to Edinburgh," he said this week, "and then slowly build downwards while there is a discussion in the south about where the line should end up. However, I am not sure whether civil servants could cope with that thinking."
Local transport expert Professor John Whitelegg has condemned the HS2 scheme as a white elephant, arguing that it would have a serious impact on local rail services if it went ahead.
"The country needs a proper integrated transport network," he argues, "not an experimental ultra-high-speed line with virtually no connections to existing services."
To take part in the consultation you can either:
- Email your answers to the 7 consultation questions, with your name and postal address, to firstname.lastname@example.org or
- Take part online at http://highspeedrail.dft.gov.uk (choose Have Your Say) or
- Reply by post to Freepost RSLX-UCGZ-UKSS, High Speed Rail Consultation, PO Box 59528, London SE21 9AX
• The Wendover HS2 site offers arguments against HS2