HS2 dovetails with devolution to rebalance UK economy, says project chief

26 Feb 16
The government’s plans for the High Speed 2 rail link are already changing Britain by complementing devolution initiatives to help rebalance the economy away from London, project chief Sir David Higgins has said.

Higgins, the chair of HS2, said the Northern Powerhouse scheme showed that the planned line, which will start running services between London and the Midlands in 2026 and then onto Leeds and Manchester in 2033, was already a factor in economic growth initiatives.

Councils and local enterprise partnerships are also using HS2 not just to re-think their transport systems, but also how they attract private investment to their areas, he stated. Examples include fashion firm Burberry locating in Leeds, HSBC bank in Birmingham, and construction and services firm Interserve in Solihull.

The rail line was therefore having a “catalytic effect”, he insisted. “Helped by the resurgent move towards devolution, local authorities and enterprise partnerships up and down the country are taking ownership of their future and using HS2 as a driver for future development.”

Taking local powers over transport and planning will be critical to maximising the benefits of HS2, Higgins added.

“Our goal is to help rebalance the British economy by making it as easy to achieve the critical mass of skills, talent and creativity in the Midlands and the North as it is in London. Increasing capacity and improving connectivity is the key to that.”

The project chief also backed the creation of the National Infrastructure Commission, led by former Labour cabinet minister Lord Andrew Adonis, which he said could use HS2 as a catalyst to a national transport strategy.

“That no longer seems such a distant dream,” Higgins stated. “But, if central government, local government and private business are all being strategic in their approach, it is time for the infrastructure industry to catch up.”


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