Completing HS2 provides our best opportunity to rebalance UK economy

Only by connecting cities in the Midlands and the North to the capital, will the true benefits of HS2 be realised. This project provides the UK with an opportunity to rebalance its economy, one we cannot afford to lose, according to the director of Midlands Connect, Maria Machancoses.

HS2 is the defining infrastructure project of a generation. It’s the most tangible opportunity we’ve had for decades to rebalance our national economy. However, if we’re to realise the full breadth of benefits high speed rail could bring, civic leaders, industry bodies and businesses must all band together to provide organised, route-wide support. 

By ensuring HS2 is effectively integrated with the wider transport network and that businesses are ‘HS2 ready’, we can guarantee services are accessed, used and enjoyed by passengers across the UK. As take up increases so will productivity, economic output and quality of life.

Realising the full potential of HS2 hinges on a single, simple message – one that must continue to be shared. The project is so much more than just a railway line, it’s a catalyst for growth, regeneration and inward investment. 

Although Phase One of the project is already underway, much work remains to secure Royal Assent for Phase Two – a ‘Y’ shaped extension that will radically transform social and economic connectivity between the Midlands and the North. 

By linking vital industrial centres in the UK’s regions, such as Birmingham, Solihull, Toton, Manchester, Sheffield, York, Newcastle and beyond, this second phase of the project forms the basis for HS2’s entire economic case. Our nation has the most unequal economy in Northern Europe, boosting the connectivity between the UK’s biggest economic centres is central to reversing this.

Make it easy to get to

Ultimately, customers must be able to access and use HS2 services, which is why Sub-national Transport Bodies (STBs) like Midlands Connect and Transport for the North are working to plug the line into the rest of the transport network. Rather than existing in relative isolation, integration with other rail services, highways, buses and light rail, will vastly increase demand and widen the geographical reach of investment. 

STBs have their part to play in joining the dots. For example, at Midlands Connect, we’re working to improve regional rail connections to HS2 in the East and West Midlands, as well as suggesting strategic improvements to surrounding roads such as the A52 between Nottingham and Derby and the M42 around Birmingham. 

This, together with local transport integration– like the work being led by Transport for West Midlands, the Constellation Partnership and East Midlands Councils around Birmingham, Crewe and Toton respectively – will greatly enhance the economic impact of HS2. 

Don’t mismanage released capacity

One of the most immediate impacts of HS2 will be the freeing up of capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line, releasing space for ten extra freight paths, taking the equivalent of 800 lorries a day off the road, as well as a multitude of extra passenger services. What we do with this additional capacity is really important. 

If mismanaged, more direct, high speed services on the HS2 line could mean a loss of fast, frequent services to the likes of Coventry, Rugby, Tamworth and Lichfield. We must work in partnership with existing and incoming franchises to ensure improvements for some are not offset by misery for others. No station should suffer worse connectivity post-HS2 than it does now.

Businesses must act now

The increased speed and ease of connection between the UK’s towns and cities, both north to south and east to west, will create more choice and opportunity for domestic and international trade. Businesses must act now to ensure they are “HS2-ready” by beginning to foster the new relationships that this improved connectivity will support. 

Birmingham and Solihull are already seeing a remarkable uplift in Foreign Direct Investment since the confirmation of Phase One. By working in partnership, LEPs, councils and inward investment bodies in the regions are acting to drive similar benefits and further their placemaking agendas, a sentiment that is especially crucial during this period of protracted political change.

It’s time that we stopped regarding HS2 as a series of long-term developmental phases, and started acknowledging the vast potential of this nationwide high speed rail project. By acting now to properly integrate the line with the existing network, plugging it in to future improvements and supporting businesses to become HS2-ready, we can boost productivity, quality of life and economic output. In ensuring the benefits of HS2 are felt UK-wide, the Midlands is truly leading the way.

Maria Machancoses is director of Sub-national Transport Body Midlands Connect.