George Osborne’s speech championing a new east-west rail link between Manchester and Leeds (dubbed “HS3”) to create a “northern global powerhouse” has earned him praise from some unusual quarters. Joe Anderson, the Labour mayor of Liverpool, congratulated the Chancellor on his “bold step” during the Q&A that followed his address.
But one person who isn’t impressed is Andrew Adonis, the former transport secretary and the architect of HS2. Adonis, whose growth review for Labour will be published next week (and which Osborne’s speech was viewed as pre-empting), told me that the Chancellor was indulging in “pure spin” and should focus on ensuring HS2 is completed by the 2020s.
It’s not going to be a high-speed line, he’s just making a big thing of further upgrading the line. The big thing the north needs is to get HS2 in the 2020s, rather than the 2030s. What they’ve done is to divide HS2 at Birmingham, meaning the North will not see HS2 until the 2030s, whereas what they should have done, and I would have done, is to treat HS2 as one project, getting it up to Leeds and Manchester in the 2020s and of course that would have transformed connections between the North, the Midlands and London – the three big economic centres of geography would have been linked.
At present, phase one of HS2, running between London and Birmingham, is due to be completed by 2026, but phase two, running from the Midlands to Leeds and Manchester, won’t be completed until at least 2032. Adonis added:
So having put the kibosh on that one, what he now does is to leapfrog the government’s own failure by announcing a scheme which is in fact is only a further upgrade of a scheme that’s already been announced, it’s not a new high-speed line.
It implies that HS2 is now done, so we can move on to HS3; HS2 is not done, they stopped it at Birmingham. The vote two months ago was on the London to Birmingham stretch, they still haven’t published a route north of Birmingham four years after I published an outline route.
The north needs HS2, that’s what it needs. I’m not against any of these proposals, but to imply that they’ve done HS2 and now they’re moving on to HS3 is, I’m afraid, just pure spin. HS2 does not exist at the moment north of Birmingham as a scheme, let alone as a project that’s actually being implemented.
Expect Adonis’s review, which Labour regards as its equivalent of Michael Heseltine’s No Stone Unturned report (which it criticises the government for failing to embrace), to set out a far more ambitious vision next week.