High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from London First (HSR 117)

1.  London First is a business membership organisation with a mission to make London the best city in the world in which to do business. We do this by mobilising the experience, expertise and enthusiasm of the private sector to develop practical solutions to the challenges facing London. London First delivers its activities with the support of the capital's major businesses in key sectors such as finance, professional services, property, ICT, creative industries, hospitality and retail. Membership also includes further education colleges and all of London's universities.

2.  We welcome the chance to give our initial views on the Government's proposals for a national High Speed Rail (HSR) network. We will continue to gather our members' views this year.

3.  In addition, London First has established a Commission to examine—in the round—the capacity and quality of London's transport infrastructure links with the rest of the UK and the wider world. It will make recommendations for the short, medium and longer term to Government, and others as appropriate. Further background to this Commission can be found in the Annex to this response, and at www.londonfirst.co.uk/connectivity-commission


4.  We welcome the fact that there is a considerable degree of cross-party consensus on long term transport infrastructure planning (with the exception of policy for the UK's international air transport links). The last Government established Infrastructure UK; the present Government has continued it, and presided over the publication of the first National Infrastructure Plan. The Coalition has made a strong case for investment in economically vital long term transport infrastructure. In London, consensus has emerged over the importance of building Crossrail, Thameslink and maintaining the Tube upgrade programme. While we welcome a visionary approach in place of the all-too-familiar sweating of assets to beyond breaking point, proposals for HSR will require sustaining this political consensus.

5.  The Department for Transport/HS2 study states wider benefits worth around £44 billion are generated by HSR. The Northern Way, which brought together the Regional Development Agencies (RDA's) from the north of England, estimates that the agglomeration benefits in particular could be much greater; indeed that the total GVA benefits could be up to three times the size of welfare benefits assessed in a conventional cost benefit appraisal, and up to £120 billion in present value terms.

6.  While this might include optimism bias, and the calculation of such wider benefits is fraught with methodological difficulties and forecasting uncertainties, we concur with the Northern RDAs' assessment that "High speed rail is a once in a generation opportunity to transform the economic prospects of the North".[88] We believe, however, there are some conditions which must be met if this potential is to be realised to the full.

7.  First, if we are to start we must finish. The real transformative benefits come from linking a network of cities to London and to each other: first Birmingham; then Leeds/Manchester; and ultimately on to Scotland. A network that goes no farther than Birmingham will not deliver the value for money of the full network; and it manifestly will not transform the economy of Northern England. Completion requires long term commitment from Government.

8.  Second, HSR must be an "and", not an "or". This visionary, potentially transformative, grand project must be in addition to other vital work needed to upgrade parts of the existing transport network, to address both historic underinvestment and to meet future demand. This includes as yet unfunded Tube lines in London, road improvements in England and the vital upgrades of our current rail network needed to relieve the overcrowding experienced by commuters every day. It is worth noting, for example, the benefit cost ratio of HS2 is 2.6, while that of the still to be funded Piccadilly line upgrade is 4.2.

9.  Third, the delivery of HSR cannot be a substitute for an aviation policy that underpins south east England's economic growth. Around 80% of all journeys to and from London to Manchester are already taken by rail. The demand for flights in the UK is forecast to nearly double by 2050.[89] Demand for flights in London is forecast to rise to 250 million passengers a year, up from 140 million now. Heathrow, the UK's principal hub airport, is full; Gatwick is full at peak times. They suffer, as a result, the greatest flight delays of all major European rivals. HSR may well transform the economy of northern England but it can't give London the international links it needs to maintain our world city status, to grow in the future and to share the benefits of this growth—through greater connectivity—with the rest of the country.

10.  Fourth and finally, continued investment in London's transport infrastructure must be integral to any HSR strategy if London is to cope with the increased numbers of passengers expected to arrive on HSR. At Euston, demand is forecast to rise from 21,000 in AM peak in 2008 to 29,000 in 2033 without HSR and 38,000 with HSR stopping at Old Oak Common. Any policy for HSR must be tied to long term plans to upgrade London's Tube and rail infrastructure - including the second phase of the Northern line upgrade (splitting the line at Camden for extra capacity with more frequent services); and Crossrail 2, linking Finsbury Park and Victoria, via Euston. While HSR has enormous potential, it must be tightly bound to coherent transport policy if this potential is to be realised.

May 2011

88   High speed rail: A once in a generation opportunity to transform the North's economy, The Northern Way, 31 March 2011. Back

89   UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts, Department for Transport, 2009. Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011