Last week, I attended the Conservative Party conference, which this year was held at Manchester. I had wanted to travel there by train, but when I checked the timetables I decided to go by car. The trains were slow (in excess of two hours) and the journeys required at least one change. My car would take me there in less than 90 minutes. It was a no-brainer.
That was, of course, a great pity, because modern trains are an environmentally friendly mode of transport. But the trains I decided to opt against were of the obsolete, polluting diesel variety and were just too inconvenient.
I travelled to Manchester in the knowledge that, in all likelihood, the Prime Minister would announce the abandonment of the Birmingham – Manchester leg of HS2. And so, indeed, he did. That came as no surprise, because HS2 has become the biggest money pit on the British mainland.
When it was originally mooted in 2009, the cost of the project was estimated at £37.5 billion. By 2020, the Oakervee Review put it at up to £106.6 billion. Even factoring in inflation, that was a massive increase, and the cost will have only travelled northward since then.
The Government was therefore right to put HS2 out of its misery and stop throwing good money after bad.
The money saved – around £36 billion – will be applied in upgrading transport links across the North and Midlands of the country. In particular, the important east-west links will be radically improved. £12 billion will be spent on delivering a fast rail link between Manchester and Liverpool, the two great cities whose prosperity is key to that of the North as a whole, including North Wales.
As for North Wales itself, HS2’s demise means an award of £1 billion for electrifying the coastal main line to Holyhead – a glittering prize that has been pursued by generations of politicians from the region. The upgrade will mean faster links with London, as well as the wider Northern region.
For decades, North Wales has been an also-ran in terms of infrastructure expenditure by Governments of all political hues. In Wales, the big money has been spent in the South, with an expensive new metro system in the Cardiff region.
What has changed is the coordinated effort put in by Growth Track 360, a coalition of politicians from North Wales and Cheshire. North Wales Conservative MPs have worked closely with Labour- and Independent-controlled councils, putting the economic case for a modern, electrified regional system between Crewe and Anglesey, with its new Freeport and links to Ireland. It has been cross-party pressure at its best.
That pressure has now yielded its fruit. HS2 has been culled and in its place, inter alia, will be a better, 21st century railway for North Wales travellers. Not only will London be an easier, quicker journey, but travellers to Manchester, Liverpool and other Northern centres will be able to leave the car in the garage and let the train take the strain.