Appoint HS2 minister to maximise benefits, report suggests

Published on Friday, 21 March 2014 13:01
Written by Daniel Mason

The government should appoint a minister with specific responsibility for ensuring HS2 delivers the jobs and economic regeneration that have been promised, the latest report on the project has suggested.

The HS2 Growth Taskforce, led by Lord Deighton - the former chief executive of the London 2012 Olympics - said the benefits of the high speed railway would only happen with proper preparation and strong leadership.

Among the report's recommendations is to follow the successful precedent of London 2012, arguing: "As was so successful with the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we want a dedicated minister to be appointed to lead regeneration and development around HS2 at the national level.

"They should be supported by a team that has the capacity and skills to support local authorities in negotiating their way around Whitehall and in developing and delivering HS2 growth strategies."

The study also advises that for each planned HS2 station there should be a growth strategy in place by the end of this year to show how local jobs, growth and regeneration will be ensured – with locally-led delivery bodies, supported by the government, in place before the close of 2014.

Meanwhile the government and Network Rail should also set out by the end of the year how cities not on the high speed line will be affected and the impact on rail freight, according to the taskforce.

On the wider potential of the project, the report says: "The scale of HS2 is without precedent. It could catalyse far-reaching economic and social benefits, particularly to the cities of the midlands and the north. So it is clear to us that we cannot expect to get the most out of HS2 simply by following 'business as usual'.

"We must set our sights high, challenge the status quo and be clear about our goal of building a truly transformational piece of national infrastructure."

The first phase of HS2, from London to Birmingham, is not set to open until 2026, with the northern section then going on to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

"We believe HS2 will improve the competitiveness of our major cities, but particularly in the midlands and the north," the taskforce said. "It will enable them to compete with cities around the world. This is good for those cities which will have HS2 stations and for the nation's economy."

Sir Howard Bernstein, deputy chair of the taskforce and chief executive of Manchester City Council, said: "HS2 is not just a railway. It is the opportunity to re-balance Britain and kick-start regeneration in my city and others across the midlands and the north of England.

"It is imperative that we work together to do all we possibly can to get the country ready."

The report was also welcomed by the Lord Heseltine, who said the taskforce had shown "just the kind of thinking needed to maximise growth and unleash the potential of great cities such as Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield".

"The report provides a clear view of what must be done, and equally importantly who must do it, if we are to get Britain truly ready to benefit from HS2," he added.

But the Stop HS2 campaign, which is against the construction of the high speed line, claimed the report was an admission that the new railway would not automatically lead to economic growth and regeneration.

Campaign manager Joe Rukin said: "Lord Deighton has said there shouldn't be an 'if you build it, they will come' attitude to HS2, but that is exactly how they have been operating for the last four years. Whilst the case for HS2 only exists in a vested interest 'Field of Dreams', the reality of the project is a waking nightmare for the taxpayer.

"There has always been a completely false assumption that high speed rail will deliver jobs, regeneration and growth, without any evidence to back this up. At least we can now praise Lord Deighton for accepting that this is the case."

If simply being a rail hub leads to jobs, regeneration and growth then "Crewe would already be one of the most prosperous places in the country", he said.

Meanwhile Labour's shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said: "This report lays out the challenges ahead to maximise the benefits for the whole country from HS2. We want better connections between HS2 and planned future rail investment in the north and for it to maximise the apprenticeships this project will provide.

"We need to ensure HS2 regenerates our great cities, gets young people into work and helps our small businesses to grow."

The report follows another study published earlier this week by Sir David Higgins, the man in charge of HS2, who recommended that work on the northern section of the line should be brought forward so the benefits are spread across the country more quickly.

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