Deighton's HS2 Taskforce must focus on the drivers for attractiveness

In a couple of weeks Infrastructure Minister Lord Deighton will publish the results of a nine month examination by his High Speed 2 Growth Taskforce into how to extract the maximum economic benefit from the planned £50bn investment in the scheme.

It should indeed be an interesting read.

The scale of the challenge facing the HS2 project in 2014 in terms of maintaining both planning and funding support as we head towards the 2015 General Election, cannot be underestimated. Alongside policies on airport expansion and now flood defence HS2 is likely to be a key infrastructure battleground as local and national politicians vie for votes.

While the project still maintains all-party support in public, it is clear that there is much muttering and disquiet behind closed door on all sides of the political spectrum.

As such Deighton’s work is clearly central to helping to smooth paths by, as he put it last July, finding “innovative solutions and challenging orthodoxies” to deliver the greatest benefits from the project for the UK. 

The ambition set by the Taskforce was “to challenge Government, cities and the private sector to step up to the transformational opportunity HS2 presents”. That means, to quote the original report, “connecting markets, businesses and people, unlocking regeneration and development and delivering HS2 through our industries and workforce”.

The reality is that this project has to start to turn the UK’s economic tide. It has to be the catalyst that helps to spread the nation’s growing economic fortune more evenly across the UK. 

That is not to say investment and growth in London should be stemmed – that would be clearly ridiculous and unwise. But it is to say we must start now to ensure that this investment really does start to unlock the growth and investment potential in the UK’s other major cities.

How to do this is of course not easy. But, as I was repeatedly reminded recently by one city leader, the key is understanding attractiveness. And specifically what drives attractiveness for the businesses, investors and residents that cities up and down the UK want to bring in.

Practical measures such as the creation of single planning authorities to cut through the multiple boundaries that could hold up economic development in and around the railway and help to form enterprise zones such as those already being rolled out in Birmingham will be important. 

As will focus by city regions up and down the HS2 route on the need to develop truly integrated transport plans that take advantage of the capacity and connectivity being offered by the new line.

But the taskforce must also not overlook the need for local cities and regions to focus on the way in which this new railway can positively impact local culture and lifestyle.

Failure to focus on the needs and aspirations of the people and communities ultimately served by infrastructure is a sure fire way of guaranteeing the infrastructure will underperform. HS2 cannot afford to let this happen.

Antony Oliver is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence.


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HS2 and Lord Deighton's task Force urgently need to publish detailed estimates on the additional costs that would have to be met by the cities served. The HS2 Command Paper contains a very interesting section which seems to have received no scrutiny but the sums involved in cash and/or asset values are likely to be substantial. It says: "where there are parties who would benefit directly from the opportunities and the development that HS2 would generate – for example property developers, other major businesses or local authorities on the line of route – it is fair and right that they work collaboratively with the Government on options to support the project financially. Depending on specific circumstances, this might involve the commitment of funds, the commitment of land, or the alignment of local investment plans (for example in regard to HS2 stations) – to maximise the local and national economic and regeneration benefits of HS2" Without clarity on the costs to taxpayers that this implies, the economic benefits argument will remain unclear.
Anonymous makes a good point. It's very unclear that the full outlay required to reap the projected benefits has been made clear. The IEA (or was it the IoD?) weren't taken seriously when they said it would double the cost but it's apparent that one huge expenditure of public money (HS2) is being used to justify another one - in order to secure the benefits that were supposed to be delivered by HS2 alone.