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The real cost of HS2 - the UK government must act now

February 28, 2013 10:39 AM
By Julia Cambridge - Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for in Chesterfield in Public Service Europe
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Julia Cambridge PPC ChesterfieldHigh speed rail makes economic and environmental sense for the national economy but there will be a number of local casualties along the way if government gets it wrong

The shifting of approximately nine million journeys from road to rail and 4.5 million from air to rail while cutting short-haul passenger flights, is something we should support. After all, it is a priority to move ever closer to a low carbon economy. But aside from the very important environmental argument, there is an economic one. The first phase will create more than 40,000 jobs, while phase two will support around 100,000 jobs across the country - regenerating areas around the route and bringing new services and amenities for local communities.

There will be an immediate hit to help boost jobs and that growth will provide a legacy of investment including £27.2bn in fares over a period of 60 years. The benefits are evident in that this high speed rail link will make North to South travel, and vice versa, a fast energy-efficient alternative and encourage more geographical mobility. At a recent policy discussion meeting, a younger party member from the Midlands hinted that he would oppose the proposals on the grounds that they would mean a further 'skills drain' for the hard hit north.

I disagree. Instead, the Midlands and North could prosper in a future where it became as commutable to southern dwellers as the Home Counties residents connect with their jobs in London. Mobility made easier, greener and a boost for jobs in the short and long term. However HS2 could come at a cost and this does concern me. There are many people whose homes and businesses will be directly on the proposed route. The government announced that it would be providing generous compensation measures for any homeowners who are directly affected.

But how do they feel? I have spoken to businesses that will benefit from being nearby, although where once they were in an inaccessible industrial estate and paying accordingly inexpensive prices - rents are set to soar with the accessibility that HS2 will bring. Rail stock and tracks have long needed updating and a programme of electrification is still needed.

The timetable for HS2 is mind bogglingly drawn out. So my question is - are other, long-awaited improvements, needing investment to be sidelined? If so, we have a long wait. One of the local worries is that HS2's business plan is based upon cutting the number of fast trains on the Midland Mainline between Chesterfield and London to just one an hour.

So HS2 could, therefore, represent a worsening of transport links for Chesterfield as the time involved in catching a link train to the HS2 station at Sheffield would marginally negate the time saved in travelling on a high speed train. Places like Chesterfield will not have a nearby station, the nearest being Toton more that 45 minutes away, again possibly negating the time saving. I would like assurances from the government that Chesterfield, and similar places, will not find themselves left with the negatives of HS2 and few of the positives.

One way to help the local community is to lobby for shorter shuttle times out of Chesterfield. Every 15 minutes would be optimal meaning that connecting times would be brisk and frequent. My remit is to fight for my local area, its regeneration, economy, jobs and transport links. I welcome HS2, a fantastic opportunity to grow infrastructure nationally for the benefit of the economy. But let us get it right at a local level too. And where it needs to be looked at, localised sub groups - listening to affected residents and businesses - should consult, debate and implement the best possible solutions to make this the transport success of the century.

Julia Cambridge is the prospective parliamentary candidate for the British Liberal Democrat Party in Chesterfield, in the United Kingdom

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