As my constituents know, I’ve been fiercely critical of the way the HS2 project has unfolded in our area. The proposed M18 route, which runs from the West Midlands to Leeds, will result in the demolition of homes and business in our area-with many more facing considerable disruption and devaluation.
We’re fighting back against the planned route but there’s a sense of uncertainty in the community, which is made worse by HS2 Ltd’s lack of consultation and the difficulty we’ve faced in having a useful dialogue.
At our last meeting with Paul Maynard MP, the Conservative Minister responsible for HS2, one of the key issues we raised was how the North is being treated worse than the South when it comes to tunneling. Just 2% of the Eastern Leg of Phase 2 is tunnel, compared to 21% of the Phase 2 Western Leg and 29% of Phase 1.
The North, it seems, isn’t worth that extra investment, and the uneven development and benefits of HS2 are stark.
I was reminded of this again last week when reading the news that Transport for London is planning the construction of two more London Overground stations at Old Oak Common Lane and Hythe Road, both of which will be on the HS2 route.
Now, I don’t blame Transport for London (TFL) for planning these stations. As the National Audit Office noted last year, “Local authorities . . . are responsible for driving regeneration and local growth benefits” from HS2, and according to TFL, this redevelopment has the potential to deliver 25,500 new homes and 65,000 jobs.
But will we in the North, and in Yorkshire in particular, also see such local transport investment-totalling 100s of millions of pounds?
Not likely. As was reported earlier this year, the gap between transport infrastructure investment between the Capital and the rest of the UK is huge, with £1,943 being spent per person in London on current or planned projects compared to just £190 for Yorkshire and the Humber. That’s a staggering difference of 10 to 1.
With central government cuts crippling councils in the North hardest, and with local authority spending up to 40 per cent lower for regions outside of London, this isn’t likely to change.
This doesn’t bode well. As the same National Audit Office report warned, when it comes to HS2, “there is a risk that these wider benefits will not materialise if funding cannot be secured” for additional local redevelopment. We were told that HS2 would solve all our problems, but this silver bullet is looking less shiny by the day.
And if our cash-strapped authorities can’t provide the investment, the divide between North and South will only widen. And whatever investment is made will likely be pressured into servicing HS2, at the neglect of meeting people’s urgent transport needs and improving links between many of the North’s great cities.
Once again, London steams to the front of the queue for transport investment, and the rest of us are left behind.