Plans for a high-speed rail systen spanning the North will do little good for the Harrogate district unless its own rail links are improved, the chief executive of Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce has warned.
Brian Dunsby was speaking after Prime Minister David Cameron and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, both gave their backing this week to the development of HS3 – a high-speed rail-link connecting the North’s great cities.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor were responding to a report published by Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2, the £50bn network that is planned to run from London to Birmingham and then to Leeds and Manchester.
The report sets out proposals for how to maximise the benefits of HS2 in the North and how transport links can be improved in the north of England more widely. Sir David identifies the importance of improving east-west connectivity across the North and considers the central role a high-speed rail-link could play. He also says the North will not have to wait until after HS2 is completed for work on HS3 to begin.
HS3 would involve improved rolling stock and services across Northern England, as well as reduced journey times. According to Sir David, a high-speed link could cut journey times between Leeds and Manchester from around 55 to between 26 and 34 minutes.
But Mr Dunsby said: “There’s no point in having high-speed trains from Leeds if you’ve got cattle trucks running between Harrogate and Leeds.
“The Harrogate line needs to be electrified to provide for trains at 15-minute intervals, and trains need to arrive at the right station in Leeds, rather than a different one, as is currently proposed. The current plan for a separate high-speed railway station are just not practicable.
“The good thing about all this is that the Government recognises the value of high-speed rail travel across the North. And Sir David Higgins is right when he says we needn’t delay these plans – we must have it this decade.”
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones gave the proposals a warmer welcome. Mr Jones is deputy chairman of the Rail in the North All Party Parliamentary Group and also chairman of the Northern Electrification Taskforce.
“For decades the North of England has been the poor relation when it comes to rail infrastructure. The new emphasis on east-west links shows that this is all changing. That is good for commuters and good for business and the northern economy,” he said.
“We all know that the success of the regional economy depends on good connectivity – whether that is broadband, road or rail. Improvements like HS3 will drive our economy forward and are a continuation of a significant government investment in rail.”
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor also welcomed Sir David’s recommendation that cooperation on transport issues should be formalised in the North. In response, the Chancellor has announced the creation of a new body called Transport for the North (TfN), made up of the main northern city regions – including the Leeds City Region, of which Wetherby and the entire Harrogate district are constituent parts.
Mr Osborne said: “The vision I set out earlier this year of the Northern Powerhouse we could build is rapidly taking shape. Today we take another big step forward in delivering both the HS2 links from north to south and the HS3 link across the Pennines.
“On the back of new transport infrastructure, science investment and civic leadership we are well on our way to turning the Northern Powerhouse into reality.”
The government, working with Transport for the North, will now produce a comprehensive transport strategy for the region. This will include options, costs and a delivery timetable for a HS3 east-west rail connection. An interim report will be produced next March.