Last week at a meeting of Liverpool City Council I moved a resolution which reiterated the support of the council not only for HS2 but also for other links which are needed, particularly the link across the Pennines to Manchester, Leeds, Hull and the North East.
With the exception of the 2 greens who always vote against big rail projects council unanimously supported the lib Dem view. In moving the resolution I pointed out:-
1. That the mood music had changed and that this vital link was increasingly being questioned. I did not know how prescient I was and had no idea that Balls would feature it in his conference speech. Having listened to his speech and seen the press reports it is not clear whether Labour are now for or against the project although the view from Manchster’s Richard Leese was very clear that Labour were moving against the project.
2. That the unfortunate thing was the name! Yes the project will speed up passenger times from London to the North but this is not actually the most important feature. In practice does 10 minutes or 20 really matter that much? It’s reliability that really counts to passengers. The real problem for the West Coast main line is that it is running into capacity problems for both passengers and crucially for Liverpool freight.
3. Anyone who is a regular user of the line knows what happens if a train breaks down in the wrong place or someone commits suicide – the whole line shudders to a halt sometimes for up to 2 hours. There is simply no spare time during the day and little spare time during the night. Trains that stop as far away from London as Rugby are hugely over used for the last hour of the journey with London commuters standing both ways.
4. Our port is threatened by this lack of capacity. We are in the middle of a £300,000,000 port expansion which will have minimal value if the goods cannot readily and reliably leave the port for destinations not only in the UK but continental Europe.
5. It is not only to the South that the liens are difficult. The trans Pennine route is laughable. For 160 years a curve between Manchester and Stalybridge is so pronounced that the speed around it is 5 mph. It needs electrifying and old lines and tunnels brought back into use if we are to connect the major middle England East/west access from Liverpool to Hull. It now takes almost as long to go the 70 miles from Liverpool to Leeds as it does the 210 miles from Liverpool to London.
The HS2 project was started by Labour – now it is being threatened by them. Long term projects by definition take longer than single parliaments. HS2 has already been planned for8 years and it is years until a rail will be laid nonferrous mind a train travelling. That is why we need a national consensus on issues like HS2.
Look around and just think what would have happened if our Victorian forefathers had prevaricated in this way. In creating city wide infrastructure for water, drainage and travel they created the structures which we still rely in today. The dams that created the reservoirs which supply the Cities with water were huge technical and financial undertakings yet they were done so well that they provide the basis for our life today.
Our railways were always chancy. Some of the lines did not make a profit, some were built without due regard for technical or financial problems BUT they were built because at that time the UK was a place of confidence with a belief that our place in the world could only be secured by big thinking and forward thinking.
Today our Country seems composed of lesser mortals. Men and women who cannot look beyond the next election and the next sound bite. Every credit to Labour for staring off the HS2 project 8 years ago. Well done to lib Dems and Conservatives for realising its importance and continuing a Labour project.
It would be to Labour’s eternal discredit if their prevarication were to damage the confidence of a project which will enhance our City if built but turn it into a back water if not built.