By Daniel Hunter
Following the Secretary of State for Transport's HS2 speech this week, the British Chambers of Commerce has published an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him not to abandon the project.
In recent weeks, we have watched with great disappointment as some high-profile figures have abandoned HS2 in the name of short-term politics, and as others have toned down their previously-unbridled enthusiasm.
The Public Accounts Committee is right to say that the case for HS2 should be built on a robust business plan, detailed cost estimates, and a clear explanation of contingencies. The public deserves a clear explanation of the case in favour. Support amongst Chambers is not universal, and some hold opposing views.
But this week, with the support from Chief Executives of 26 Chambers of Commerce from across the UK, BCC Director General, John Longworth, reinforces his strong commitment, and outlines the four key arguments in favour of HS2.
Extracts from the open letter:
Dear Prime Minister,
As the government prepares to reinforce the business case for HS2, the British Chambers of Commerce reiterates its firm support for the project. Together with many accredited Chambers of Commerce in our major cities and towns, we write today to urge you to stay the course, and ensure that HS2 proceeds as planned, alongside other crucial and transformative infrastructure projects.
Capacity: we need HS2 because Britain’s railways are full
Future business success depends on infrastructure networks that meet demand. Rail is no exception. The UK rail network must have the capacity to meet rocketing business demand — for long-distance services, for commuter rail services, and for the transport of freight.
Detailed research makes it clear that the three North-South main lines will all reach their effective capacity in the next fifteen years. Piecemeal, sticking-plaster upgrades to existing routes will not solve Britain’s looming rail capacity crunch.
Investment: HS2 will underpin business competitiveness and confidence to invest
Your government has shown important resolve in shifting current expenditure towards greater productive investment in infrastructure. Construction of HS2 is a vital part of this investment story as it will help Britain’s economic performance move from good to great. It is the best sort of radical infrastructure investment — delivering major supply chain benefits to UK companies of all sizes during the construction phase, and unlocking significant follow-on business investment in our towns and cities.
Employment: HS2 will deliver both construction jobs and permanent jobs across Britain
Expert research suggests tens of thousands of construction jobs, and hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs as a result of future business investment. HS2 also would allow us to maintain key construction skills in the UK for the long-term — something that we have not done during years of stop-start decision making on infrastructure projects, to our national detriment.
Abandoning HS2: a stop-start economy with a third-rate infrastructure
Imagine Britain in the 2030s without HS2. Rail networks strained to breaking point, with overcrowding and delays the norm. Fare rises to deal with the problems of capacity and congestion. Never-ending disruption as lines are closed for further piecemeal improvements, particularly at weekends and holidays. More freight clogging our roads, because there’s no room to put it on the rails. And hard choices about which cities and towns get rail service at all, because there won’t be room for everyone.
Imagine our country today without the M25, the Jubilee Line, or the Channel Tunnel — all investments that were fiercely opposed and contested before their construction. HS2 is no different.
As business leaders from across the United Kingdom, we therefore call upon the government to reiterate its commitment to HS2, and to move the project forward during the remainder of this Parliament.
Our ongoing support is predicated on clear control of costs, now that an appropriate contingency has been made for the project. We understand that the public will not accept further cost increases, and every effort must be made to ensure that the project comes in at or under budget.
We further call upon ministers to re-state their commitment to other, complementary transport investments, such as the billions being spent now to improve the conventional rail network in all parts of the United Kingdom, as well as planned road investments. Transformational infrastructure investment must include HS2, but not be limited to it.
Director General, BCC
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