Osborne: build HS3 to create Northern 'powerhouse'

A third UK high-speed rail link, based on the existing Manchester-Leeds line, could help to create a ‘powerhouse’ collection of Northern cities.

The idea has been floated by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. No detailed plans have been revealed, but it is expected that journey times would be shortened by building new tunnels and infrastructure.

Making what was touted as his ‘Northern Powerhouses’ speech at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry on June 23, Osborne said: “The cities of the North are individually strong, but collectively not strong enough.

“The whole is less than the sum of its parts. So the powerhouse of London dominates more and more. And that’s not healthy for our economy. It’s not good for our country.

“Today I want us to start thinking about whether to build a new high-speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds, based on the existing rail route, but speeded up with new tunnels and infrastructure. A third high-speed railway for Britain.” 

Speaking of his desire for “not one city, but a collection of cities - sufficiently close to each that combined they can take on the world”, Osborne said that he envisaged joining northern cities together by means of four ingredients - “not physically, or into some artificial political construct, but by providing the transport connections they need; by backing their universities; by backing their creative clusters; and giving them the local power and control that a powerhouse economy needs”. 

The Chancellor specifically identified connectivity between Northern cities as a big issue that is holding back potential. To complement the investment that the Government is already making across the North with the Northern Rail Hub, Strategic Road Network and High Speed 2, Osborne wants the UK to “think big”. 

Although no timescale or budget has been proposed for HS3 (as it quickly became labelled), the news that the Government is considering the principle of such a route was positively received by the rail industry and other business voices.

CBI Deputy Director-General Katja Hall said: “To keep the wheels on the recovery turning, we need to maximise growth across the UK. Better east-west links in the North could provide a huge boost to local businesses, and help further balance the UK economy by creating a northern hub.

“However, any proposals need careful planning. The priority must be boosting connections, not speed. We need to see more detail for such a project, which must be good value for money for the taxpayer.”

High Speed Rail Industry Leader Group Chairman and Siemens UK Rail Division Managing Director Steve Scrimshaw said: “We strongly welcome this further commitment to better connect the UK. An integrated, world-leading high-speed rail network is crucially important to Britain’s future economic and social health and prosperity. 

“Lines such as that proposed between Leeds and Manchester will help rejuvenate the towns and cities it serves, interlinking businesses and markets, and helping to rebalance our economy.

Scrimshaw said that a growing population and resultant demand for rail travel meant that now was the time to invest in high-speed rail, creating a “lasting legacy for future generations”.

The Chancellor’s ‘powerhouses’ theme was picked up on July 1 by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who accepted most of the recommendations in a report by former Secretary of State for Transport Andrew Adonis on stimulating business innovation and tackling “chronic regional imbalances” in growth. 

As a result, Miliband is proposing the release of up to £30 billion in government funding for regional transport, housing and employment, which could potentially fund or complement an HS3 route with light or heavy rail schemes. 

See Analysis, p34-35

See Wolmar, p 42-43

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