In yesterday’s report from HS2 Ltd, the title of it perhaps was the biggest news story that got completely missed – Rebalancing Britain: From HS2 towards a national transport strategy.
David Higgins, the Chair of HS2 Ltd, is essentially developing a national transport strategy using a new high speed rail network as its spine. Well, this is something I and many other have advocated for quite some time – the hope being that politicians would take heed. Well, David Higgins is not a politician per se but he has just cracked on and started work on developing one anyway which is great news!
Recognising the much wider role of transport in delivering a much greater range of benefits to places is of fundamental importance – in terms of developing policy and also for justifying the implementation of such policy (given the significant capital cost of infrastructure and the much longer term nature of deriving the benefits from it).
There are a range of major talking points contained within it – HS3 being at the forefront of those. Knowing the state of the railway network across the north, something must be done on a large scale. Capacity is urgently needed, journey times are uncompetitive against the car, the trains themselves are less than ideal – Pacers, it is astonishing these trucks still exist on a 21st century rail network! Decent fast Intercity services stretching from Liverpool and Manchester in the West to Hull and Newcastle in the east via West and South Yorkshire in the centre are crucial. This is clearly the obvious next step from HS2 towards a national high speed rail network.
Following that logic, I will posit HS4 now that covers the Midlands and beyond. That eastern leg of HS2 could go through Birmingham to Worcester, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter and into Devon and Cornwall. We need East-West connectivity across the Midlands too. Cambridge and Norwich and far far far away from us in the West Midlands.
Talking of the East Midlands, the question over how to develop the Hub station (as with South Yorkshire) should surely be parallel to the Birmingham Interchange experience. These stations need to be at the heart of something – if it isn’t a city centre, then it needs some other trip generator such as an airport, a major business area or equivalent, and also with existing connections and the ability to significantly enhance them. I hope that Birmingham HS2 Interchange station will become the hub of a transport network in itself with HS2 providing connectivity into Birmingham Airport and the NEC, but also seeing enhanced heavy rail connectivity (linked into the Greater Birmingham CrossCity rail network – see several earlier posts including https://alex-burrows.com/2014/08/11/so-what-could-this-crosscity-network-do-for-greater-birmingham/) and also at the heart of a rapid transit network of Midland Metro trams and Sprint (bus rapid transit) connecting it quickly and easily with Coventry, Solihull, Coleshill, Balsall Common, Tamworth, Sutton Coldfield and more.
So back to the original point though and the need for that overarching national transport strategy – from which we can then develop regional, local and neighbourhood strategies that all fit together. Perhaps the politicians might follow suit? Perhaps (as per another previous post) decentralisation of powers and funding to the regions to manage and develop their transport networks would allow the Department for Transport to be shrunk into a more strategic body that could focus on delivering a national transport strategy on behalf of the Government – see https://alex-burrows.com/2014/10/23/integrated-transport-or-mobility-opportunities-part-1/
I expect there will be further developments soon!