In my opinion, HS2 is a vital project for the UK. It will increase capacity on our congested railways, improve connections between our biggest cities and regions, and generate jobs, skills and economic growth.
I am pleased that Royal Assent was granted for Phase One of HS2. This paves the way for a new railway line that will increase capacity on our rail network, connect the biggest cities, and generate jobs and economic growth.
Britain's railways require additional capacity, and the Government believes that HS2 represents the most effective way of both alleviating pressure on the current network and ensuring capacity growth. With destinations including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Crewe, HS2 is expected to relieve the East and West Coast mainlines of congestion by offering fast, direct services between major cities on new and improved lines.
However, I see HS2 as a much-needed project among many others on our rail network. For us to truly benefit from it, we must also look to improved East-West rail links in the North West. Notably the Liverpool to Leeds corridor, which I am pleased to hear is a priority for the Prime Minister.
I want to see improved rail services across the board, from nationally-significant projects such as HS2, to improvements on the South Fylde line which runs through Fylde. I have been pleased to see the electrification of the Blackpool North line and the subsequent improvements to the network in Fylde, including the creation of a third platform, and two lifts at Kirkham and Wesham Station, making the station accessible for all.
These improvements must continue to be made alongside HS2.
Not only will HS2 significantly enhance intercity rail services, it will drive regional regeneration and support job creation. It is supported by all the major conurbations that it will serve, as they recognise the key benefits that it will bring to their areas. HS2 is likely to generate around 30,000 jobs during construction and 3,000 when the line is running. It will also support growth in the wider economy, worth an additional 100,000 jobs. I understand that the aim is also to create at least 2,000 apprenticeships, thereby boosting the next generation's skills base. The National Audit Office has found the strategic case for HS2 to be convincing. Indeed, HS2 will deliver more than £2 of benefits for every £1 of investment, representing good value for money.
Ensuring that the project strikes the right balance between the needs of affected communities and the environment, and the long-term needs of the country as a whole is essential. HS2 Ltd's Sustainability Policy commits to the protection of the environment through seeking to avoid significant adverse effects on communities, businesses and the environment, including the prevention of pollution.
The policy also commits to minimising impacts where they occur and delivering enhancements as far as reasonably practicable to attain no net loss to the natural environment. I am pleased that a green corridor is being created alongside the railway, including the planting of seven million new trees and shrubs along the Phase One route from London to the West Midlands.
A five-volume Environment Statement for phase 2a of HS2 (West Midlands to Crewe) has been produced following detailed assessments. It sets out how the environmental impact of constructing this stage of the line will be mitigated. As regards Phase 2b (Crewe to Manchester and Leeds), a consultation has taken place on the Working Draft Environment Statement. A summary of the responses has been published, and this will further inform the development of the Phase 2b route and Environment Statement.
The Government is also committed to providing support for local communities whilst HS2 is constructed, first along the Phase One route. An overall £70 million funding package has been made available which will help enhance community facilities, improve access to the countryside, and help improve road and cycle safety in towns and villages along the HS2 Phase One route. It will support local economies where businesses may experience disruption from the construction of the line.
However, it is no good seeing the larger projects going ahead if they do not bring with them benefits for other lines.
I have been speaking with Transport for the North about the rail network in the North West and improvements are in the pipeline; they have assured me they want to see a minimum of two trains per hour on all lines including the South Fylde line .
This will double the capacity of a line which serves all of Fylde and Blackpool South – including one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions, Blackpool Pleasure Beach. This is a call I have been making since I was elected in Fylde and will be most welcome.
One service per hour, and an unreliable one at that, cannot be relied on by residents or visitors. I’m delighted to see we will be getting more services, and better trains with the old Pacer units being retired.
The better a train service we can get, the more opportunities open up for residents to reach new job opportunities, and the easier it becomes for tourists to reach us and invest in our local businesses.