Cities pursuing the high speed rail dream

Consultants Stephen Hall and Ben Blackburn consider how city regions in the north of England are still seeking to maximise on the promise of HS2.

The case for the extension of high speed rail services to the Liverpool City Region, as recently set out by ResPublica in its ‘Ticket to Ride’ report, is as much steeped in the history of the city as it is carried by a progressive vision of its future.

The proposal, investigated by the think tank in partnership with the Mayor of Liverpool and the ’20 Miles More’ campaign, to extend HS2 to link Liverpool with Phase Two terminus Manchester, is presented as complimentary to two major infrastructure ambitions held by this government. The first is the flagship ‘Northern Powerhouse’ programme which seeks investment and stronger institutions in the North to catalyse regional growth through transport connectivity. The second, by virtue of the proposed high speed link between Liverpool and Manchester, provides one scheme for how latitudinal coast-to-coast connectivity (sometimes termed “HS3”) between the great port cities of Liverpool and Hull could be realised.

Using playfully bucolic imagery, the director of ResPublica, Phillip Blond, described high speed rail as a deep valley river whose stream can draw growth to a multitude of centres and environs, but whose current can therefore deprive poorly connected areas of much needed investment. The key to connectivity, therefore, is to irrigate regions through criss-crossed tributaries that ensure growth is spread and not monopolised by a few.

Liverpool itself is regarded by the report as being on the brink of economic success and high speed rail is a promissory to this potential being realised - not just through the usual benefits of faster rail lines and connectivity, but also with the auxiliary growth that could be unleashed by the simple virtue of more capacity on currently congested rail infrastructure.

The Superport of Liverpool, for instance, has recently received substantial investment that has increased its deep-sea freight capacity allowing it to handle 95% of container vessels. But, without more rail freight capacity, existing infrastructure - in particular the strategic road network - runs the risk of becoming overloaded and inefficient.

Still plenty to fight for

The government’s onward march on HS2 continues. A major procedural stepping stone has been passed with the ink just dry on the High Speed Rail Bill Committee’s final report - made after over two years’ work hearing nearly 1,600 petitions. Phase One construction is due to start in 2017 and the government’s decision on the Phase Two route, which is planned to link Birmingham to Manchester to the west and Leeds to the east is due this autumn. A new hybrid ‘paving’ Bill allowing the government to release funds to start preparatory work, should be introduced before the end of this Parliament.

While some might think Liverpool’s proposal is a little late, they would be mistaken. Like other campaigns, they realise that now is the time to strike: influence thinking ahead of the autumn, then prepare an evidence base and a coalition of support to leverage their argument over the course of a relatively slow legislative process.

HS2East is another city region driven campaign which seeks to corral community and business support and encourage the government to accelerate its timetable for building the eastern leg of Phase Two while also investigating opportunities to extend it further into the North East and beyond.

With the backing of a coalition bringing together cities and rural authorities, HS2East recognises the need for maximum value to be leveraged from this potentially transformative piece of economic infrastructure; value which cannot just be enjoyed by the conurbations but by communities of all sizes across the board. Not only is this in the interests of those backing the campaign, it is also central to the proposition set out by the government and HS2 Ltd: to be successful HS2 must bring connectivity and economic opportunities to the many, not the few.

As Transport Select Committee Chair Louise Ellman told the event, all is still to play for.


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Impact Report 2017

Impact report 2017