High Speed Rail Link: Cautious Thumbs-up from Business Groups

HS2 - Photo copyright 2012 HS2 LtdPlans for a high speed rail link offering 45-minute journeys between London and Birmingham have been given a cautious welcome by small-business groups.

The £32.7 billion High Speed 2 (HS2), announced by Transport Secretary Justine Greening this week, will ferry passengers between London and Birmingham at speeds of up to 250mph and cut the fastest journey time from 1 hour 24 minutes to just 45 minutes.

The proposed Y-shaped network will have terminals in Leeds and Manchester and be capable of transporting 26,000 more passengers per hour than currently. Greening said that it would create an estimated £6.2 billion more in economic benefits over a 60-year period than a line running trains at conventional speeds.

The plan is to be voted on by Parliament in 2013-14. If given the green light, the first part of the network (London to Birmingham) will be complete in 2026, with the remaining lines to Leeds and Manchester to follow in 2033. Phase two of the HS2 scheme, with likely links to the North of England and Scotland, will go out to consultation in 2014.

Business groups welcomed the potential economic benefits of HS2, but with a degree of caution. John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“This project must be seen as one part of a comprehensive package of infrastructure improvements to underpin economic growth. Britain cannot continue to ‘make do and mend’ when it comes to its sub-standard infrastructure. Fundamentally, our global competitiveness is at stake.”

The Confederation of British Industry’s director general John Cridland said:

“We are right to plan for the infrastructure which the next generation will need, and the biggest prize will come from phase two — the link with the North. This will help to spread the benefits of future economic growth across the country.”

However, the Institute of Directors (IoD) said that a poll of their members had found that many businesses were unconvinced by the projected benefits of the new link.

The survey of 1,245 members conducted in August 2011 found that 79 per cent felt improving existing intercity services would be important to their business, compared to just 54 per cent who thought that investment in new high speed rail was important. In every region surveyed, a greater proportion of IoD members felt intercity upgrades were more important.

Opponents of the scheme also felt that the public funds could be better spent on improving existing transport infrastructure amid concerns about the environmental damage HS2 could cause.

The Government said that the proposed scheme will free up existing rail services for more freight movement, take an estimated nine million journeys off the road network and cut up to 4.5 million air journeys each year.

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