High-speed rail link needed to boost north - Osborne

 

George Osborne: "The cities of the north together can be greater than the sum of their parts"

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A so-called HS3 high-speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds could help to create a "northern global powerhouse", George Osborne has said.

He told the BBC better road and rail links would allow cities across northern England from Liverpool to Hull "to take on the world", as London did.

The chancellor said the plan could cost up to £7bn - but could be cheaper if existing rail lines were updated.

Labour said "nobody" believed the Tories could deliver jobs in the north.

Mr Osborne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme - before a speech in Manchester - that the cities in the North of England were individually strong but were "collectively not strong enough".

He said that in the past few decades giant global cities, such as London, had emerged - and that the string of northern cities, with better transport links and careful planning, could take them on and be "greater than the sum of their parts".

Current rail journey times

  • Leeds-Manchester: 49 mins (36 miles/58km)
  • Liverpool-Manchester: 32 mins (31 miles/50km)
  • Hull-Leeds: 55 mins (31 miles/50km)
  • Reading-London: 28 mins (37 miles/59km)
  • Chelmsford-London: 34 mins (30 miles/49km)
  • Luton-London: 23 mins (29 miles/47km)

Approximate fastest times. Source: National Rail Enquiries

Mr Osborne said the building of the east-west link should be considered as part of a review into the second phase of the £50bn HS2 high-speed rail project.

The current plan for the first phase of the project between London and Birmingham has proved controversial. Some residents are set to be disrupted and there is criticism of its price tag.

The government's preferred route for the second phase involves extensions linking Birmingham with Manchester and Leeds - with the final route expected to be chosen by the end of this year.

Mr Osborne said in his speech that it was not "healthy for our economy, not good for our country" if "the powerhouse of London dominates more and more".

Along with improving roads - the M62 already links Liverpool on the west coast with Hull on the east coast, via Manchester and Leeds - Mr Osborne says a new high-speed rail link should be considered, based on the existing rail route but with new tunnels and infrastructure.

Map of HS2 with additional possible HS3 link The green line between Manchester and Leeds shows the existing route which Mr Osborne says could form the basis for a new high speed link

The fastest rail services between Leeds and Manchester currently take about 50 minutes - already quicker than many journeys across London.

The plan would be to cut this to 30 minutes, with trains travelling at up to 140mph, compared with the current maximum of 90mph and the 225mph maximum speed for the fastest bit of HS2.

"We need an ambitious plan to make the cities and towns here in this northern belt radically more connected from east to west - to create the equivalent of travelling around a single global city.

Richard Westcott reports on some of the problems the HS3 project may encounter

"I want us to start thinking about whether to build a new high-speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds."

Start Quote

Those who hate Britain's lopsided London-centricity might want to think about the idea of promoting the creation of a far bigger second city”

End Quote

A spokesman for Nick Clegg welcomed Mr Osborne's plan, adding that the deputy prime minister had long believed Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield "should become a 'Northern golden triangle' to drive economic growth in the North".

He said: "George Osborne's new found commitment today is welcome and we are now hopeful that he will match his words with action by backing the Leeds City Region growth deal and its proposals for better transport links to other cities across the North."

But CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall gave a cautious welcome: "Better east-west links in the north could provide a huge boost to local businesses, and help further balance the UK economy by creating a northern hub.

"However, any proposals need careful planning. The priority must be boosting connections, not speed. We need to see more detail for such a project, which must be good value for money for the taxpayer."

BBC political correspondent Vicki Young says Conservative support in the North of England has been declining and Mr Osborne's statement will be seen as an attempt to show the party is keen to increase prosperity beyond its traditional strongholds in the south.

There is, however, little detail about how these plans would be funded, and Mr Osborne said he did not yet have timescales - but he wanted "to start a conversation".

"A true powerhouse requires true power," says Chancellor George Osborne

Mr Osborne also told the BBC he wanted to see new positions of elected mayoralties being created - including one for Greater Manchester along the lines of London's - to help drive forward economic growth in the north.

Detail from high speed rail map

Maps of the HS2 route on the project's website

For Labour, shadow chancellor Mr Balls said regional growth divides had "widened markedly since 2010", when the coalition government was formed.

"On high-speed rail, we said months ago that we need value for money for the taxpayer and to improve the existing plans to maximise the benefits for the whole country, and strengthen the links between northern cities.

"Ministers need finally to start listening."

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1286.

    As someone who was brought up in industrial Lancashire but has lived in the South since I came to London as a student in 1964 all HS2 will do is bring Birmingham nearer to London not the other way round. What is need is a decent speed line (or series of lines) connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds Sheffield and Hull.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1244.

    I'm so very glad that I don't live anywhere near the routes planned for all three HS's, and can't understand this blinkered obsession that saving just a few minutes off a journey is more important than looking after what little countryside is left, quite apart from the upheaval for those directly affected. It is another example of the selfish few dominating government policy.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1075.

    Can't we just have some trains between towns and cities that don't stop at other stations? That would cut journey times down dramatically without the need for expensive new infrastructure.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 957.

    HS3 seems to make significantly more sense than HS2. East west travel across the pennies is notoriously poor. The price tag is significantly less than HS2 as well. Preston - Euston can be done in about 2hrs now so traveling to London from the North isn't really a problem why not build HS3 first. Ah I suspect there is no obvious direct benefit to Londoners only that strange breed of northerners

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 883.

    A plan which should be implemented as soon as possible, and should include Liverpool. Current journey times between the main centres could be halved.

    But claims about London draining life out of other UK cities are rubbish. If London was not successful businesses located there would move to another global centre and huge amounts of income and tax revenue would be lost.

 

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