Work must be brought forward on an east-west high speed rail link across the north of England, even if it means prioritising this over High Speed 2, a think tank has urged.
Independent policy research group IPPR North is calling on the new transport secretary Chris Grayling to take a ‘north first’ approach to infrastructure investment in a letter published this week.
It highlights that connectivity between and within the northern city regions is vital for enhancing productivity, expanding local labour markets and unleashing innovation. However there is an ongoing spending gap between the north and London, with investment in key infrastructure set to be nearly six times higher per person in the capital over the next five years.
“The time it takes to travel, on hugely dated infrastructure, between our great regional cities is a national disgrace,” said IPPR director Tom Kibasi. The think tank has therefore called for swift action to develop ‘High Speed 3’ across the Pennines.
Government has already committed £60M to developing HS3 between Leeds and Manchester and intends to come up with detailed plans to reduce journey times towards 30 minutes.
“Given the Brexit result, the North of England must urgently see growing prosperity,” added Tom Kibasi. “A proper east-west crossing would boost northern and UK growth, and must now take priority above all other major transport projects, including Crossrail 2 and HS2.”
But Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce marketing & policy director Chris Fletcher commented: “The delivery of HS2 is important as is the delivery of HS3 – it should not be an either or decision. Both are needed and both should be moved up the timescale as quickly as possible, as should any other transport projects that are stalled in planning, preparation or delivery be they in the North, South, East or West.”
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “As the Prime Minister has said, we will govern for the whole United Kingdom and look to build an economy that works for everyone.”
A Transport for the North spokesperson added: “We welcome IPPR’s call for the North to get this much needed support. However, we don’t see this as an ‘either/or’ situation.
“Northern Powerhouse Rail (sometimes referred to as HS3) will compliment HS2, offering east to west links and adding much needed capacity to our Northern railways to improve the movement of both passengers and freight.”
IPPR North also calls for the Government to use record low interest rates to raise £50Bn to invest in northern road and rail priorities, and for the Treasury to overhaul its existing funding model and devolve 10 year transport budgets.