Reacting to the news that the eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will no longer proceed as planned, Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the BCC, said:
“This will be huge disappointment to the thousands of businesses that were relying on HS2 and NPR to fire up economic regeneration through the improved capacity and connectivity of our rail network.
“While some places will benefit from these revised proposals, many companies have built their plans for the future around what they believed was a firm commitment from government to see these projects through in full.
“The economic benefits that they would have brought to areas across the Midlands and the North would have improved the lives of countless generations and created growth opportunities for businesses across the country.
“There is also grave concern that without more capacity on our railways, any significant progress on shifting more freight transportation off our roads and onto the rail network will be stymied, making it much more difficult to achieve our net zero ambitions.”
THE VIEW FROM CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE
East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire)
Chief Executive, Scott Knowles, said:
“Today’s announcement comes as a bitter blow to communities in the East Midlands that have spent such a long time planning for the arrival of HS2 only to now be faced with a reneging on clear commitments repeatedly made by our country’s leaders.
“Make no mistake, this is a job half done. This has always been so much more than just a transport investment for the communities of the East Midlands and no matter how this is now spun, the vision that encompassed economic, environmental and societal benefits has been massively descoped.
“At a time when the Prime Minister is shouting from the rooftops about levelling up and saying no place will be left behind, this is a slap in the face to a region that already receives the lowest level of public expenditure on transport and economic affairs in the UK.”
London Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Chief Executive, Richard Burge, said:
“This watered-down proposal is not just a blow to the North, it is a betrayal of the much-hyped Levelling Up agenda. It is hugely disappointing that after the positive announcement of a new Export Strategy yesterday, the Government’s commitment to invest in productivity gains for the future has been compromised. Coming right off the heels of COP26, today’s announcement that moves the country away from infrastructure projects that deliver a more sustainable future for British transport is especially disconcerting.
"It is difficult to understand how the Government expects the UK to compete globally with the most advanced economies when we cannot deliver decent connectivity between our own cities. Delivering a ‘high-wage’ economy, which the Prime Minister has made a stated aim, will require significant investments. The Integrated Rail Plan published today falls well short of what is needed to deliver the infrastructure necessary to secure Britain’s economic future.”
East Lancashire Chamber
Chief Executive, Miranda Barker, said:
“Dialling back the investment in the north on the HS2 eastern leg and NPR will severely limit the economic benefits of the plan and its contribution to levelling up, for both the North’s and the UK’s benefit.
“This decision will limit the boost to northern supply chains’ from building the system, hamper the ability to broaden the economically active area for the local workforce, hold back plans to increase freight capacity on the rail network, restrict the decarbonisation benefits and damage the UK’s competitiveness for our global exports.”
Chief Executive, Dan Fell, said:
“Although this announcement doesn’t come with much surprise, this is deeply disappointing news for businesses and communities in the North of the country. If the Prime Minister and his Cabinet are to fulfil their promise of levelling up the country, then this Government by U-turn must stop. Failing to do so will undermine business and investor confidence and risk fundamentally damaging the long-term economic strategies of towns and cities that are plotting routes out of the pandemic to economic recovery.
“This decision goes far beyond issues of connectivity - supply chain and job creation opportunities have also been undermined today; indeed, a great many businesses and organisations who were in the process of gearing up and skilling up to be part of the HS2 supply chain; a reduction in ambition by government has jeopardised these opportunities for many regional businesses.”
North East of England Chamber
Chief executive, John McCabe, said:
“The Government’s integrated rail plan fails to deliver on the levelling up agenda and give much-need commitment to transformational projects for the North. Without the full delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail, the eastern leg of HS2 and improved capacity on the East Coast Main Line our region’s potential will continue to be held back.
“The Government had previously committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail and set up bodies like Transport for the North to advise on rail connectivity. Failing to listen to them and Northern leaders on the need to invest demonstrates that there is a lag between rhetoric and action on levelling up."
Mid Yorkshire Chamber
Managing Director, Martin Hathaway, said:
“Today’s announcements from the transport secretary mentioned levelling up multiple times, however this is not how it feels for our regions businesses who see this as a significant downgrading of previously announced transport schemes.
“Cancelling the HS2 eastern leg and downgrading the Northern Powerhouse Rail plans so that they do not include a full upgrade of the Transpennine route will severely damage the opportunities for the growth and development of northern businesses, as well as significantly reduce the opportunities available for our communities.”
West & North Yorkshire Chamber
Chair, Amanda Beresford, said:
“After 11 years of campaigning for improved rail connectivity both within and across our region, today’s announcements are extremely disappointing and will call into question just how serious this government is, on its levelling up promises.
“At their heart, HS2 and NPR are not just transport projects, they are the game-changing backbone of the levelling-up agenda when taken in the spirit of the original vision. These projects shouldn’t be viewed as simply a faster way to get to and from London, but an essential component to rebalancing the UK’s economy by connecting people more efficiently with the jobs and education opportunities across our region.”
Greater Manchester Chamber
Chris Fletcher, Policy Director at the Chamber, said:
“After such a prolonged and delayed build up we were really expecting a lot more from the Integrated Rail Plan around brand-new lines, investment and capacity where they are needed most, linking the major economic centres across the north and opening access to the Midlands and beyond.
“Instead, we have a patchwork quilt of upgrades that roughly costs the same, will mean greater disruption to existing users and will not deliver the capacity uplift that is needed. More trains on existing track can only result in a poorer service than at present. We have been down this route before following years of upgrades on the West Coast Mainline that went over budget, over timescale, created huge disruption for passengers and didn’t deliver the long-term improvements they needed to.”
Greater Birmingham Chamber
Chief Executive, Henrietta Brealey, said:
“In essence this is a missed opportunity – delivering the project in its entirety would have freed up more capacity on local networks and taken more freight journeys off our congested road networks – ultimately, bringing about substantial environmental benefits.
“Here in Birmingham, we’ve seen first-hand the wider investment and job creation that the commitment to HS2 has brought to our region and let’s not forget the number of local areas away from the line of route that stand to benefit from the project.
“We appreciate the economic landscape has drastically changed as a result of the pandemic and a £96bn fiscal commitment is hugely welcomed – however, delivering HS2 and NPR in full would have acted as a catalyst for ‘levelling up’ in practice and spread prosperity across all four corners of the country – ultimately, it remains to be seen whether these new plans will have the same desired impact.”
Read the Government's full Integrated Rail Plan here