U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron gave his support to a proposal for a high-speed rail line, referred to as HS3, across northern England after it was mooted in a report on HS2, the planned link from London to the north.
Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said they backed a “Crossrail for the north” linking Manchester and Leeds as a crucial piece in the drive to rebalance the British economy and create a “northern powerhouse” for business and economic development. The proposal is included in a report published today by David Higgins, chairman of High Speed 2 Ltd., which is building the line to the north.
“Improving connectivity and reducing journey times between our great northern cities is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan for the north to boost businesses and create more jobs and security,” Cameron said in an e-mailed statement. “That’s why we are backing HS3.”
Higgins’s report backed the planned Y-shaped route for HS2 north of Birmingham, with a western line going to Manchester via Crewe and an eastern line going to Leeds via South Yorkshire and the East Midlands. The western hub should be at Crewe, Higgins said, and be completed by 2027, six years earlier than currently scheduled, so Scotland and northern England get the benefit as soon as possible.
A line across the Pennines linking northwestern and northeastern England could cut journey times between Liverpool and Leeds in half and make Hull and Newcastle on the east coast easier to reach from the rest of the country, Higgins said.
“This initial work needs to continue, and intensify, to identify the best route, how and when it could be constructed, and its cost,” the report said. “This is as important to the North as Crossrail is to London,” he said, referring to the east-west line under the capital that’s currently under construction.
HS2, costing 50 billion pounds ($80 billion), is opposed by some lawmakers in Cameron’s Conservative Party, who question whether it offers value for money and oppose its route across the districts they represent in the House of Commons. Ed Balls, the economic spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, has also said he will look for ways to trim the project’s budget if he becomes chancellor of the exchequer after next May’s general election.
Britain has only one other high-speed line, running from London to the Channel Tunnel.
Higgins said Britain should draw on the experience of other countries to find ways to cut costs and increase efficiency in building the new lines, particularly in the second phase of the project north of Birmingham.
“Because of the legislative process, phase two is three years behind phase one,” he said in the report. “We need to use that time and space to learn the lessons from elsewhere in the world where by applying new design and construction techniques, as well as private finance, high-speed projects have been built quicker and for less.”
The report also hit back at critics who say there is no need for high-speed commuter connections in an age of tele- conferencing and remote working. Reduced journey times are a “strategic necessity” if Britain is to successfully compete in the “knowledge economy,” it said.
“Even in a high-tech age, meetings matter. It is how serendipity happens. Spontaneity is easier across a table than down the line,” Higgins wrote in his foreword to the report. “That is why rail passenger traffic has continued to grow above historic trend since the late 1990s. It may not be coincidental that Google has chosen to locate its new U.K. headquarters behind Kings Cross station.”
Higgins, who called for a co-ordinated transport strategy for the north of England, said he is drawing up advice to the government on extending HS2 to Scotland, without saying when it would be published.
He did not address a proposed spur to London’s Heathrow Airport in the report because he didn’t want to prejudge Howard Davies’s inquiry into airport capacity in southeast England, he said. Davies is to due to submit his proposals after the election, with both Heathrow and Gatwick, south of London, seeking to expand.
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