High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents


Written evidence from Leeds City Council (HSR 135)

1.  SUMMARY

1.1  Leeds City Council welcomes the Committee's inquiry into the Government's proposals for High Speed Rail.

1.2  The proposals for a high speed rail network are considered to offer major economic benefits for Leeds and the Leeds city region which represents 5% of the overall UK economy as well as opportunities to address the growing pressure on the classic rail network especially the East Coast Main Line. As such the Council supports the "Y" shaped network as proposed.

1.3  It is considered that the development of a high speed network will offer the one-off opportunity for a transformational change to the rail network, including connectivity to international networks, in a way which does not seem feasible for the classic network. However, parallel investment in the classic network to meet demand and develop services during the likely 20 year plus period in which the network to Leeds is developed should be strongly encouraged.

1.4  The timing and delivery of the network are critical matters and the City Council believes that it is essential that the proposed routes to the North should be developed in parallel so as to maximise the overall benefit to the Northern economy.

2.  THE CITY COUNCIL'S POSITION ON HIGH SPEED RAIL

2.1  Leeds City Council is presently considering the implications of the Government's proposed strategy for high speed rail prior to providing a full response in line with the deadline set by the Secretary of State for Transport. At this stage in the development of the high speed rail proposals the Council is continuing to work with a range of partners and potential stakeholders in the high speed rail project to develop a greater understanding of the detailed impacts of the proposals. This includes the West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority; the Leeds city region authorities; the Core Cities Group of England's eight largest cities; and the High Speed Rail Eastern Network Partnership.

2.2  Leeds Metropolitan District sits at the heart of the 11 local authority areas which together form the Leeds City Region and forms basis for the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership. Leeds' population of 800,000 makes up over a quarter of the city region population of nearly 3 million and the city contributes around 35% to the overall city region economy of £51 billion GVA, which represents 5% of the overall UK economy. Transport is therefore a vital part of maintaining a competitive economy.

2.3  The LCR is host to a number of major businesses and outside London, Leeds is the primary financial and business services centre employing 95,000 people in Knowledge Intensive Businesses. As well as this the City Region has significant strengths in existing and emerging sectors, particularly environmental sciences, electrical and optical equipment, bioscience, health and medical research, and digital and creative industries and the highest concentration of universities outside of London, and one of the largest clusters in Europe, providing over 36,000 graduates per year. Some 36% of the research produced by these higher education institutions is deemed world class and 10% is deemed world leading. National and international transport links are therefore critical to the success of Leeds and the City Region.

2.4  The City Council therefore supports the proposals for high speed rail and the proposals for a "Y" shaped network and welcomes the inclusion of Leeds in the proposed network.

3.  CHOICE OF ROUTE

3.1  It is the City Council's view that the "Y" shaped network offers the optimal and future proof solution for providing the basis for a network that can properly serve the North of England. By passing to the East and West it enables the route to become accessible to the majority of the population of England and as well as Leeds brings the East Midlands and South Yorkshire directly within the catchment of the network. This option also allows, in a way which the alternative reverse "S" shaped network did not, for the North East of England and Scotland to share in the benefits of the network initially through a direct connection into the classic East Coast route and with the potential to extend the high speed route. This also preserves options for longer term incremental development of the high speed network as well as ensuring that the network is less London focussed by catering better for intermediate "cross-country" journeys.

3.2  The decision to include provision for links to Heathrow Airport and directly to join the High Speed One route to the Channel Tunnel are also to be welcomed. It is considered that these additions to the route will improve its usefulness by the potential it offers for rail-air interchange and for the connectivity into the European high speed rail network. Having recognised this opportunity it is important as the project develops to formulate realistic plans for capture the benefits of this link to connect the North to Europe with direct services.

4.  THE CASE FOR HIGH SPEED RAIL

4.1  The case for major investment in the UK rail network is considered to remain very strong with a continuing growing demand for rail travel both for local journeys and for longer distance travel that is generated by a modern economy and lifestyles which place a high value on good mobility. The completion of the first high speed line (HS1) from London to the Channel Tunnel has underlined the need to extend UK connectivity into the wider international high speed networks that have been spreading across Europe for several decades.

4.2  Improving journey speeds and hence connectivity alongside the release of capacity on the classic network is the main driver for the creation of a high speed network. The initial forecast journey times Leeds to London which knock off around one hour (or 60%) from the present journey time will be transformational in comparison to previous route modernisations. What is also significant is the much improved connectivity from Leeds to Birmingham and the West Midlands where present journey times would be halved. These changes will have a major impact on connectivity to Leeds and are considered to justify the choice of 360 kph network with the ultimate potential for 400 kph.

4.3  In terms of economic benefits the Government's own analysis shows that the proposed "Y" shaped network delivers an estimated £44 billion of economic benefits over 60 years. Work for the Leeds and Sheffield City Regions indicates potential wider economic benefits over £2 billion and the Northern Way has estimated the economic agglomeration benefits to North at over £6 billion. Sustaining strong and growing economies in the face of international competition and climate change requires a new approach to long distance travel.

4.4  The creation of a new network rather than further route modernisation will deliver the transformational change needed for the UK's railways. Whilst it may be possible to increase the capacity of the existing main line routes serving the North, Yorkshire and the Humber and the East Midlands, the completion of the West Coast Main Line modernisation programme at a cost of nearly £9 billion and a timescale of nine years to completion shows the very significant costs incurred by the "on-line" route improvements. Although this route has created new capacity forecasts suggesting that by the 2020s this will have been used up. Similarly whilst maximum speeds of 125 mph have enabled journey time improvements, this has only delivered top speeds which have been the norm on significant lengths of the East Coast and Great Western main lines for several decades.

4.5  The West Coast Main Line modernisation illustrates that modernising live railways, often on historic alignments passing through heavily built up areas is a major and disruptive undertaking carrying significant management and operational costs. It is also difficult to significantly future proof classic routes for further development, for example in terms of increasing train speeds. This suggests that without a major step change of approach a transformational approach to the country's inter-city networks is going to become increasingly more difficult. Therefore the City Council believes that the proposals for a purpose built high speed rail network are a one-off opportunity for the UK rail network to brought to a standard that matches those routes already established in Europe.

4.6  The City Council sees an urgent need to plan for tackling deficiencies in the existing "classic" rail network. For example on the East Coast Main Line the rolling stock is between 20 and 30 years old and an infrastructure that has seen a fraction of the investment made in the West Coast Main Line and similar could also be said of the Midland Main Line. Therefore the Council is firmly of the view that the development and progression of High Speed Rail proposals ultimately should provide for a durable and flexible "once and for all" solution. But in the meantime this should not be at the expense of this much needed investment in the classic routes, such as the Intercity Express Project to modernise the train fleet and investments in line speed and capacity enhancements.

4.7  High speed rail, by "freeing-up" capacity on the classic rail network, will provide opportunities to utilise their capacity to provide better services for centres not served by the new routes. This additional capacity should also enable greater provision to be made for growing the role of rail freight.

4.8  What is less well quantified in the present work and will need to be understood better from experience elsewhere is the undoubted potential for transformational change to those centres through which the route will pass. Again the City Council recognises this potential opportunity and is working to understand what it will mean for th city and city region.

5.  TIMING OF HIGH SPEED RAIL

5.1  Whilst costs, logistics and industry capacity may well make it inevitable that a national high speed rail network will need to be delivered in phases, it is important that the full network is delivered at the earliest possible timescale and that every step is taken to minimise the time between the opening of the Birmingham route and completion of the wider network. In this regard it is particularly important that both legs of the "Y" to Manchester and Leeds are delivered in parallel to ensure the economic and transformational advantages expected to be brought about by the arrival of high speed route can be shared. In this regard it is noted that previous work by HS2 indicated a potentially higher benefit cost ratio for the Eastern leg which suggests a strong case for the early progression of this section of route.

5.2  Leeds City Council at its Full Council Meeting on 6 April 2011, recognised the critical importance of the timing of project's delivery when the following resolution was passed:

That this Council expresses concern that the Government's proposed hybrid bill relating to High Speed Rail will only adopt legal and planning powers for a route from London to the West Midlands. This Council therefore calls on the Government to reaffirm its commitment to bringing the social, economic and environmental benefits of High Speed Rail to Leeds by expanding the detail of the upcoming hybrid bill to include a framework for the north of England.

5.3  Since the full high-speed network is not expected to be completed until 2032-33 it is important that investment in the classic network continues in the short to medium term. Such investment will not only sustain vital inter-city services on the East Coast main line but will also allow the continued development of regional and city region rail networks in order that the benefits of high speed rail for the classic network can be realised across the widest possible area. It is considered especially important that good connectivity from centres not on the high speed network is provided and that therefore modernisation of local rail networks alongside or ahead of the project is very important. There as well as the East Coast route investment in the key Trans-Pennine routes (both via Huddersfield and also the Calder Vale-Bradford/Halifax-Line) and local networks in West Yorkshire will be important to ensuring the widest possible inclusion of communities in the benefits of high speed rail.

May 2011


 
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Prepared 8 November 2011