Wednesday, 30 January 2013

What Leeds really needs - and it's not HS2

I cannot work up much enthusiasm for the HS2 project, and that's not just because I'm unlikely to be still alive by the time it reaches here.

Recalling that the original estimate of the cost of the Olympics was £2.9 billions but they eventually cost over £9bn (and they then had the cheek to claim that they had come in "under budget" because the budget had been revised - Orwell thou should'st be living at this hour) I don't put much faith in the estimated cost of £30bn.

Even if  the Olympic achievement is repeated the target completion date, some 20 years hence, is met,, who is to know whether or not  a super-duper arterial railway line will be of much use to anyone in 20 years' time?

This is a classic example of misguidedly wanting to "keep up with the Joneses."  True, most of our continental neighbours have high speed trains, but Germany, France and Spain are large countries, and we are a tiny island (as opponents of migration never hesitate to remind us.)  And the small European countries have land borders which join them to the bigger ones, as we are now joined by the Channel Tunnel, HS1.

In the meantime, there is plenty of infrastructure improvement, here in Leeds, the rest of the North and elsewhere, which could be started now, create employment now, stimulate the economy now and bequeath to our children and grandchildren a healthy, convenient,  environmentally-sustainable, people-friendly transport system rather than an expensive white elephant.

Most of the following projects are "shovel ready" so that the much needed economic stimulation could start tomorrow - well, at least shorty after Easter.  Leeds needs its  Supertram, a project which was planned then abandoned only a few years ago, parts of the A1 still need bring up to Motorway standard, the Northern rail network is desperately in need of modernisation and modern rolling stock, the commuter lime between Harrogate and York is archaic and still dependent on semaphore signalling, which may sound romantic but is hardly tops for safety.

Essentially, we need to be thinking in terms of bringing our provincial and inter-city transport systems up to date, with better East-West connections, rather than trying to convert the entire country into a suburb of London.

And if all that isn't enough, some of the cash saved by abandoning this prestige project could be used to provide some decent cycle lanes, separated from faster traffic by a kerb or some other sort of barrier.  Because bikes may be a more appropriate form of transport in the energy-strapped and polluted 2040s than super-duper trains.


  1. Having recently become a follower, here is my first comment, and it is a positive one! I fully agree with you on HS2; it is not only Leeds where investment could be spent more wisely.

  2. Thanks, David. I'm sure there are many badly needed infrastructure projects in Newcastle and the North East, not to mention continued support of the arts.