High-speed train link ‘will benefit economy’

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Business leaders in Sheffield this week maintained their support for the proposed £42.6bn high speed train system amid reignited controversy over the costs and benefits.

They believe a route from Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds will generate a significant boost to both the national and local economy - and their view was backed up by a new report estimating a productivity gain in South Yorkshire of between £0.5 bn and £0.9bn a year.

This latest report followed a warning from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that the predicted benefits of the planned HS2 high-speed rail link were dwindling as costs rise, saying that the Department for Transport’s case was based on “fragile numbers, out-of-date data and assumptions which do not reflect real life”.

Tim Hale, who chairs Sheffield Chamber of Commerce’s Transport Forum, said: “As long as the economic conditions for its success are being met or exceeded, then HS2 is clearly a logical thing for the country to undertake.

“That being the case, Sheffield must have a station. From this standpoint, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce supports HS2.”

But Mr Hale, who is chairman of Champion Hire Ltd, added: “Should the detailed technical or economic arguments for the case change, then our assessment will obviously need to be reviewed.

“I think the work done to integrate HS1 with the historic St Pancras station, demonstrates that Britain can successfully combine the old with the new.

“From a world standpoint, Britain is such a geographically small country that the relatively short distances involved from London to Scotland, should be easy to deal with.

“If Britain wants to compete in the global economy of the 21st century, we need a modern, fast rail system, just like we need other communication methods such as excellent airports, good roads and superfast broadband. Looking back, can you imagine what London would be like now without the Underground or developments in the north without the M1 and the M6 motorways? Projects never seem as expensive when you look back and high speed rail seems a logical step for the UK to take.”

The train is not due to arrive in Sheffield until 2032, with the Department of Transport backing a proposed station near Meadowhall. The council is pressing for a location on the site of the former Royal Victoria Station, off the Wicker.

Despite warnings of spiralling costs and doubted economic benefits, new research by KPMG indicates the national economy could be boosted by up to £15bn a year thanks to increased rail capacity and faster and more reliable rail connections.

An HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “The North and Midlands are set to gain at least double the benefit for the south.. There is now clear evidence of the economic boost HS2 represents in terms of jobs, productivity and growth. HS2 is the right project at the right time.”

However, Hilary Wharf, director of HS2AA, a national organisation campaigning against HS2, said: “It is always depressing when politicians’ vanity drives them to promote a dire scheme rather than confess making a mistake. This latest report is a rabbit out of the hat. But like all conjuring tricks it lacks real substance.”