I’m a glass half-full kind of person and, for me, there is a huge amount to be positive about when it comes to HS3.
Before we get started on the benefits, arguments and advantages however, let’s recognise that there’s a lot to learn from the experiences of HS2. That brand has been damaged by political squabbling and unclear communication (the benefits have always been about both increased speed and, crucially, greater capacity).
So we need to get the basics right before we start really driving the case for HS3. Definition is a good place to begin.
What do we actually mean by HS3? A whole new railway? Or upgrading and electrification of an existing route? And where should it go? We’ve got to get a consensus on that before we can do anything else.
Expectation management can then happen. And everyone can be realistic about what success looks like. Right now HS3 is in danger of becoming a battleground for investment in the North versus investment in the South. We don’t need that or the associated political baggage. What we need is a framework within which we can define and then deliver a crucial infrastructure investment that will bring multiple benefits – social, economic and environmental.
The need case for better connectivity between these key urban centres is self evident. While North/South links perform well, East/West links are in lower league. Providing the means for people – and crucially goods too – to move better, more reliably and more rapidly between Liverpool and Hull (via Warrington, Manchester, Leeds and with links to Sheffield and Doncaster etc) is a no brainer.
With a positive mindset, I’m seeing opportunities to support existing cities, businesses and communities as well as to plan for new ones. Transport infrastructure provides the ideal link around which to plan managed and sustainable growth. I don’t fear conglomeration or, as some say, that Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds will merge into one homogenous and sprawling urban ribbon across the North. Have these people ever been to Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds? Proudly independent and self-confident, there’s no way they’ll lose their individuality and identity.
So absolutely yes. We need to improve connectivity between the towns and cities of the North otherwise these places will lag further behind London and cities across Europe. We need to provide a catalyst for sustainable growth through investment in an upgraded transport spine in the form of HS3. We need to recognise that, planned properly, HS3 can be transformative for the North and, yes, for the country as a whole.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Andy Burnham and other mayors and civic leaders setting out the stall and acting together to put the case forward. Collective voices and aligned thinking will be far more effective.
So what next? As I say, definition and clear communication on the scheme would be a good place to start. Let’s get that right and everything can flow from there.
As a Manchester-based planning professional who has grown up and lived all of his life in the North, I am passionate about ensuring our cities and communities can thrive for the next 50 years and beyond. You simply can’t achieve that by continuing to rely on our existing Victorian railway connections. The need case speaks for itself – we must get on and do it – but please, please let’s be clear at the outset exactly what we are going to do and how.
That way, when we look back in 50+ years from now we’ll be able to say that we got it right and have benefitted from the investment. I for one certainly H(OPE)S(O)3!
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