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Which way to spend £50 billion

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If civic leaders in the north of England had been given a say over how to spend £50 billion, they would probably not have chosen a high-speed railway line to London. That’s the view of Jim O’Neill, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, who is now heading an independent commission on the growth of UK cities, the Guardian reported.

[“‘Build northern stretch of HS2 first’ to boost poorer UK cities”, Toby Helm, The Observer, 1 March 2014]

Asked if the London-Birmingham scheme could have the reverse effect to that intended and draw more economic activity into the south-east and away from the Midlands and north, [Jim O’Neill] said: “Of course it could. You could certainly live in Birmingham and work in London when this happens. All this does is make it easier to get into London.”
[…]
“I am somebody who has spent 30 years going up and down to Manchester, so I know from experience what that trip is like. I have seen in the past decade it go from three to two hours, and it is great, but it has not actually helped Manchester relative to London.”

But hasn’t Manchester city council’s Richard Leese indicated that he would not swap HS2 for anything? Anyway, building HS2 would certainly make it easier to get into London from Birmingham, but not from other places in the West Midlands, such as Coventry and Wolverhampton.

Whether reducing the journey time from Birmingham to London by 20 minutes, or increasing hourly train seats by 1,500, is a benefit worth £50 billion, is another matter entirely.

According to Birmingham city council’s David Bull, the working age population of Birmingham was around 640,000. With population growth, that figure should increase to 700,000 or more. The HS2 proposition is to run three trains per hour from Birmingham to London, with 1,100 seats in each one. So, over the 7 am to 9 am period, 6,600 people could presumably commute to the capital (obviously the “net” increase, facilitated by HS2, is much lower than 6,600).

Clearly, there is no way that “many” could live in Birmingham and work in London, unless the definition of “many” means “1% of Birmingham’s working age population”.

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Written by beleben

March 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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3 Responses

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  1. It seems to miss the detail that the bulk of that 6,600 people will probably be living between London and Milton Keynes, and have no wish to travel to Birmingham to catch a train…

    On the other hand if this project was actually built as an integral part of the current network, rather than in glorious isolation, we might see a few more folk actually supporting it.

    Has anyone actually evaluated the costs of compensation legal challenges, land purchase, parliamentary powers etc against the alleged vast costs of delivering the project along existing rail corridors, and fully integrated with the current network?

    The current high speed route – a 20th Century project (well distanced from the 19th Century standards by having few and generously radiussed curves and no level crossings) is also nearly 30 miles shorter than HS2 proposals, and could deliver a 60-65 minute London Birmingham journey now using currently available trains and technology, and substantially less energy consumption.

    Dave H (@BCCletts)

    March 2, 2014 at 7:39 pm

  2. “clearly, there is no way that “many” could live in Birmingham and work in London”

    But HS2 would still draw central Birmingham time-nearer the numerous and bigger competitors of central London. HS2 fans see this as a golden opportunity for Brum business, but Professor Tomaney reckons the time gains would flow towards the vastly bigger magnet of London:

    http://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/planning/news/HS2ParliamentaryCommittee

    Now, that opens the question of what would happen if, instead of the current route, HS2 were assumed to follow the M1 and then the M6 into Birmingham and its time gain over the WCML became marginal. Would it still get built to deliver just extra capacity?

    Michael Wand

    March 2, 2014 at 8:42 pm

  3. For Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds, HS2 is a no-brainer. With very little disruption and with added development opportunities, these cities get state-of-the-art rail services to London which the rest of the country pays for. ‘London’ is at least contributing to Crossrail.

    McMichael

    March 3, 2014 at 11:58 pm


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