Tuesday, 29 November 2016 12:37

HS2 – A Big City Solution?

Reducing the journey time between major cities in England is surely a benefit of HS2, but is this one huge, and expensive, project really the solution to congestion around big cities? And what about the premise of wealth and lifestyle distribution outside of the major cities, as is inherent in building a railway across the country? Martin Cox of mca Group explores HS2.


Once you get there, London is a great place to be. It’s a capital city that we rightly should be proud of. Yet the wealth it generates and the lifestyle it offers to most of its inhabitants are not necessarily replicated across the UK. The country seems to be in danger of getting increasingly reliant on London, almost to the point of struggling to cope.

Birmingham is the country’s second city and it too is a great place to be.

It makes an awful lot of sense to encourage people and businesses to move from London to Birmingham to spread things out. At the minute it costs 10 times as much to get to London on the train as it does to get to Birmingham from home, and the journey is only 2.5 times the distance. Even this simple measure indicates that something is clearly out of kilter and needs to be addressed.

A large proportion of our clients are based in Birmingham, London, or the counties in-between. It’s nigh on impossible to go through any part of these regions without coming across significant house-building projects, often with only lip service seeming to have been paid to the supporting infrastructure. We have many clients in these regions lucky enough to own land there too, so we know that the house building currently underway is only a fraction of that envisaged in the future.

Currently, at peak times, the train services between Birmingham and London can be seriously overcrowded and increasingly delayed. The roads around Birmingham and London get busier with the M42, M40, M5, and M6 around Birmingham all now as capable of ruining a day as much as the M25 can around London.

If people and businesses are to be encouraged to move out of London to spread the country’s wealth more evenly, and if the UK is to be made a better place to do business, then the transport links between Birmingham and London need to be improved.

Only so many people and businesses can be accommodated by Birmingham though; and only so many may want to relocate there. Given the house building both underway and planned for the future, and given the attractions to businesses that other towns and cities have to offer, places in between Birmingham and London such as Thame, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Oxford, Bicester, Warwick, and Coventry should also see growth, which will be great for their local economies.

If Birmingham grows, and if the local economies and communities in between Birmingham and London also grow this has to mean that more people from locations other than London will want to travel to and from Birmingham. And for reasons of choice and practicality, this will mean travel by both road and rail.

There is a massive buzz at the moment as the prospect of businesses and people both relocating and travelling to and around Birmingham gathers pace. This is fantastic and has to be capitalised on. For it to be capitalised on the existing infrastructure around and leading into Birmingham has to be improved significantly.

But is the answer really to spend what will be a considerable proportion of the transport budget for years to come, even if drip-fed annually, on one single project given everything else that needs improving? And is the solution to the infrastructure problem really to build a single project that is specifically designed to go directly from one point in London to one point on the outskirts of Birmingham & then into central Birmingham, intentionally bi-passing everywhere in-between?

 

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