20 Miles More, Joe Anderson and ResPublica take their messages to Labour Party Conference
Speaking at a Labour fringe entitled “From HS2 to HS3: A high speed route to re-balance Britain?” were:
- Shadow Infrastructure Minister Lord Adonis
- Shadow Political and Constitutional Reform Minister Stephen Twigg
- Labour Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson
- ResPublica Director Phillip Blond
The event was hosted by ResPublica. Transport Times Chief Executive Professor David Begg was in the chair.
Opening the meeting, the Chair declared that the result of the Scottish independence referendum and the resulting further pledges on devolution was good for transport policy.
He pointed to the successes of Scotland and London as good examples of transport devolution.
The north of England needed to mobilise and grasp the opportunities posed by constitutional change, the Chair said.
On the subject of constitutional change, he urged the attendees not to pursue the idea of an English assembly, which he believed would end up being dominated by London and the South East.
Instead, the Chair called for power to be devolved to the city regions.
Commencing his remarks, Lord Adonis credited Transport Times with helping to win him over on the case for high speed rail whilst he was in government.
Any English devolution must come with an elected component and this would be integral for any transfer of transport powers, the Shadow Minister said.
Turning to HS2 and HS3, Lord Adonis emphasised that the existing rail network could only be refitted at massive cost.
“This is what you will have to go through unless you invest in new capacity between major conurbations”, he told the meeting.
Lord Adonis called for the major cities of the Midlands and the North to be brought together by HS2.
It would be a transformation if it were possible to travel between key cities in 30 minutes or so, he said.
The original railway had never been built to be connected, being originally designed as a series of freestanding lines to London, the Shadow Minister explained.
HS3 would be “the Crossrail of the North”, Lord Adonis declared.
He noted that the programme of electrification had begun under the last Labour Government and had continued under the Coalition.
“We need transformed connectivity both between northern cities and London and between the key cities”, Lord Adonis remarked.
Noting the importance of building cross-party consensus on big infrastructure projects, he urged Labour to support the Government’s proposals on HS3 if the party believed it would deliver for the North.
By supporting the plans, it would be easy to build support for legislating for the new line, Lord Adonis concluded.
Hailing Labour leader Ed Miliband’s policy of a constitutional convention on the future of the UK, Mr Twigg praised the work of elected city mayors like Joe Anderson.
He supported the case for extending high speed rail to Liverpool, emphasising that it would bring a greater economic impact to the city.
The Shadow Minister approved of the idea of creating a mayoralty for a metropolitan area like Merseyside.
It would be important for Liverpool to share in the enormous benefits that HS2 would eventually bring to the whole country, Mr Twigg declared.
If an elected mayor was good enough for London, then it was good enough for Merseyside, Mr Anderson declared.
He explained that the Core Cities Group had nearly been outflanked on HS2, crediting the success in pushing the project forward due to lobbying by city leaders.
It was important to invest in modernising infrastructure to keep the UK ahead of its competitors, Mr Anderson said.
HS2 only needed to be extended by 20 miles more to connect into Liverpool, he told the fringe.
Mr Anderson said that HS2 could not be delivered without improving east-west connectivity via HS3.
Noting Liverpool’s investment in a super port, the Mayor emphasised that the freight industry viewed rail as viable option for moving goods, particularly as rising diesel prices impacted on travel by road.
He recalled that the case for investment in Liverpool was being made to the highest levels of the Government and the Opposition.
“We need to articulate the case for HS3 to connect the North and ensure that we are not left behind in terms of investment, Mr Anderson said.
“It is not just about the regeneration of the North West. It is about the regeneration of the UK”, he concluded.
“What we desperately need is strategic thinking in the Conservative Party”, Mr Blond said.
He said that a “strong Tory presence” in the north was necessary for the good of the country.
Praising the “northern powerhouse” concept put forward by Chancellor George Osborne, Mr Blond warned that many areas of the country felt abandoned and forgotten.
Left and right had responded to globalisation in the same way and left certain parts of the country to “wither on the vine”, he said.
Mr Blond claimed that the UK was already a divided nation and that fewer people were getting ahead in life.
Labour was ahead of the Conservatives in arguing that there were some failures in modern capitalism, he remarked.
HS2 and HS3 were part of the “crucial answer for rebalancing the UK economy”, Mr Blond declared, but cautioned that it would not solve the problem of low wages and falling living standards.
He believed that the case for HS2 was strengthened by HS3 because the latter would help connect the core northern cities.
If Liverpool did not get high speed rail then it was doomed to become a small, seaside town that was never visited, the ResPublica Director told the meeting.
Mr Blond forecast that the development of the super port in Liverpool and resulting international trade would lead to increased economic benefits.
Rail connections were important to help move this economic benefit across the region and help unlock its potential, he explained.
“If we are interested in rebalancing [the UK economy]… infrastructure that delivers opportunity is the only way to do it”, Mr Blond said.
20 Miles More Director Andrew Morris asked if Liverpool should be connected to a high speed rail network given its economic importance and size.
Responding, Mr Twigg said that economic rebalancing could not be achieved unless Liverpool was included within HS2.
He said it was important to make the case for at all levels of decision making.
“HS3 is pro-poor and pro-north”, Mr Blond added.
He added that there was a risk that Liverpool would not be included within any new proposals for the North.
A proposal for a high speed rail link into the city should be included with the One North report, Mr Blond continued.
The Chair said that many northerners did not appreciate just how powerful a political force they could be if they lobbied together.
Up to 20,000 more people could look to make Liverpool their home if connectivity was improved, Mr Anderson said.
Questioned over the process of further devolution, Mr Twigg was reluctant to go down a regional approach that had been adopted by the last Labour Government.
A representative of Carillon, drawing on her experience of living in the North East, asked if Newcastle and Leeds should be connected by a high speed rail line.
Responding, Mr Anderson did not believe that the Government had either a national or regional transport plan.
“I just want to make the case that we go ahead with HS2 and HS3”, he said.
For every pound spent on transport projects in the north, another nine was spent in London, Mr Blond said.
He suggested that London should have “no right of veto” over infrastructure funding for the North.
Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Alan Pugh asked if HS1 and HS2 should be connected.
The Chair suggested that “a bit of freight line” could connect the two routes.
Later in the meeting, Mr Blond declared that a national infrastructure plan should be driven from a local level.