This week the government announced it would be pressing ahead with HS2 – the major rail infrastructure project to connect the north and south of England via high speed rail.
I have been supportive of HS2, since it will benefit rail users in the West Midlands and Shropshire. At the heart of the business case for HS2 is the recognition there are significant capacity constraints on north-south rail links in England, and that without major capacity interventions, this would not improve.
The West Coast Main Line in particular has severe capacity restraints, affecting services through the West Midlands. I know first-hand this was a key issue to overcome in delivering the direct rail link between Shrewsbury and London that I, and other Shropshire MPs, fought hard to secure. So we do need to act to address this.
But I recognise concerns about the environmental impact of the project. So I have sought to take a balanced view. In increasing electric rail capacity through HS2, we can take more car journeys off the road, and reduce the number of flights needed from the North of England to the South, and vice versa. By increasing capacity, we also have the added benefit of helping more people to use the train on current lines as a regular means of transport.
Having built no new rail line north of Watford since the Victorian era, capacity issues will not dissipate without major intervention. So HS2 is necessary, and I am pleased the government has chosen to proceed.
This week the government also announced a £5bn package to overhaul bus and cycle links for every region outside London, levelling up connectivity across the whole country. This will deliver a higher frequency of bus services, including at evenings and weekends, and simpler, more affordable fares.
I am very pleased the funding includes specific commitment to at least 4,000 new Zero Emission Buses, helping to decarbonise our transport network at the same time as providing the transport communities need.
It will also see funding for ‘mini-Holland’ cycling hubs, making cycling safer and more practical in our towns.
To transform truly our transport network on the path to net zero, we must show how we can both improve transport services for users, while mitigating impact on the environment. I do believe these two announcements this week will help to begin to deliver that.