FPB offers support for govt's high-speed rail plan

Tuesday 29 January 2013

City of London

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) believes the government is adopting the right approach with the HS2 northern line proposals.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the high-speed rail network will extend beyond London and Birmingham - also reaching Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Leeds.

Alex Jackman, head of policy at the FPB, said it is easy to be critical of government when it puts off the big infrastructure decisions.

He noted that "the failure to deal with the UK's airport capacity" is a case in point.

"So we are pleased that a significant infrastructure spend has cross-party support," Mr Jackman stated.

"On first viewing, HS2 may appear to have a strong case against it, with benefits a long way down the line and a really considerable spend at a time of economic difficulty."

However, the FPB policy chief said these are the kind of long-term decisions a government must make for the good of the country.

"The government must now work to clearly communicate nationally the business case for such an important project, whilst locally demonstrating how such a project will bring economic benefits to the regions, rather than draining them towards London," he stated.

Mr Jackman offered the view that this case has not been adequately made in the north, meaning scepticism remains widespread.

"Cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds may well be nervous at just how HS2 will affect them in terms of business," he noted.

"And what must not happen now is for the project to take the focus off local infrastructure needs."

Station upgrades, platform improvements and more rolling stock are needed on many existing lines in the UK, Mr Jackman claimed.

He noted that commuters are paying ever-higher prices for a more congested service.

"Investment in the main road and motorway network must keep pace too, these being the primary form of transport for many businesses," Mr Jackman stated.

"If the government takes its eye off the ball with local projects, it will lose the battle over the big ones."

Posted by Dan Smith