HS2 North – West of England
Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) :
Will my hon. Friend endorse the North Wales and Mersey Dee Rail Task Force growth track 360 campaign, which seeks to ensure journey times of under one hour within the north Wales, Cheshire and Wirral region, as well as faster links to London, to counteract the economic underperformance of the region by connecting people to jobs and business to customers, and our overdependence on a congested road network?
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend raises an important point. High Speed 2 is not just about Cheshire and the north-west region. It is about another country and the north Wales economy. He is exactly right. The Mersey Dee Alliance is a good alliance, and I am very pleased, as he is, to be part of it. It is about looking at this together, because enterprise zones do not recognise borders, and those of us representing Cheshire will benefit from the cross-border activity. It is very important that the rail infrastructure travels along north Wales and Anglesey to the markets of Ireland.
It would be a mistake to look at High Speed 2 as a standalone project. Over the next five years, three times the amount that is spent on High Speed 2 will be spent on roads, railways and other forms of transport. It is really important to ensure that High Speed 2 and the expenditure on other transport in the north-west complement each other so the connectivity that High Speed 2 brings is enhanced throughout the north-west, spreading the benefits. Trying to get from Northwich to Widnes and Runcorn is a nightmare. It is virtually impossible. Passengers trundle into Stockport, and then trundle along over to Widnes and into Liverpool. Increasing capacity on rail networks will potentially remove an estimated 10 million vehicles from UK roads, significantly relieving the pressure on busy sections of roads, such as the M56 in my constituency, which the hon. Member for City of Chester could not resist mentioning. We are all at one on the M56’s issues.
We have only to look at another French town, Lille, whose economy has flourished as a result of the connectivity of high-speed rail and the connection to the HS1 line, to see the potential that High Speed 2 can bring to north-west hubs such as Crewe. Those areas of France have been transformed. Around the station in Lille, investment has increased significantly, and new offices, hotels, a retail centre and a conference centre are all being developed. The Euralille complex, situated between the two Lille stations, has emerged as the third largest business centre in France. That highlights the real opportunity for Cheshire and its towns. Lille highlights how forward vision and connectivity together can be a radical catalyst for growth in any modern city.
Connectivity between our cities is vital for the development of the northern powerhouse and the rebalancing of our economy. North-west businesses will have better access to specialised services, a larger workforce and greater opportunities to offer their services to the capital. Likewise, shorter journey times are vital for business-related journeys, and connections with London alone could bring £4 billion of benefits to the north-west. Over the next few decades, High Speed 2 will play a fundamental role in reshaping our economy. Some 70% of jobs created by High Speed 2 are forecast to be outside London. I am sure all hon. Members will agree that we want those jobs in the north of England and Scotland.
We must look at High Speed 2 not in isolation but as part of an overall strategy for improving connectivity throughout the north-west. We must take steps to ensure that spending on other areas of transport infrastructure is, as much as possible, complementary to the High Speed 2 network so we can replicate Lille’s success at hubs such as Crewe in the north-west of England.