Planning for the future was a hallmark of our Victorian ancestors. One good example is London’s sewer system that they deliberately made much larger than required at the time, which is why it is only now that the Thames Tideway Tunnel is being looked at.

Our railway network is another example of a Victorian grand projet, which has remained largely free of any major overhaul since the early 1900’s. Like the capital’s sewers, the UK’s rail system is creaking at full capacity.

For those championing High Speed 2, the supporting narrative was until recently narrowly focused on the less important issue of speed rather than capacity or its potential impact on our other major cities – including those without a stop on the route.

At the heart of the case for or against HS2 is economics, and the fact is that a significant cut in journey times delivers only a fraction of the benefits brought by greater capacity and better-connected towns and cities.

Talking heads

HS2 will signal the beginning of a new era for railways in this country and it will bring our network closer to parity with many of our peers internationally, as well as in emerging nations, who have long-established cross country high speed routes.

The new route does not stop and start with the construction of a new line, stations and delivery of new trains. There will be significant changes and additional investments needed over the next generation to ensure that, once completed, it can truly become the catalyst for economic transformation.

It was for these reasons that we invited a variety of contributors to share their views on how best to deliver what is the most important infrastructure project in the UK for well over 100 years in our Key Connections report. Our aim was to collate a comprehensive view of the considerations which those delivering the project, those governing policy, and those running the cities on the line of route, should reflect on between now and completion.

The contributors – who include co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on High Speed Rail, Stuart Andrew MP and leader of Birmingham City Council, Sir Albert Bore – each provided a differing perspective on how HS2 should be delivered, although there were some key themes common to all.

Getting connected

Greater connectivity and integration were issues which united all of our contributors. This includes better links between the stops on the HS2 route and their surrounding locations, as well as assimilating with existing networks and alternative modes of transport.

Despite the controversy over the total cost of HS2, there needs to be a mature discussion about the need for additional investment in local infrastructure and transport networks. Quite simply, they must be upgraded and expanded now so that they are ready for the first HS2 train to arrive.

This is recognised by some of the regional leaders who contributed to our report, like Sir Albert and Ben Still, chief executive of the Sheffield City Region LEP (local enterprise partnership), who each recognise that they will need to take some bold decisions over the coming years to help their regions prepare for HS2.

The issue of connectivity is also relevant in relation to capacity. By freeing up space on existing networks, HS2 will allow for new local and regional services to be created in currently congested areas. For example in our report, Jim Steer of Greengauge 21 suggests that a new Bradford-Wakefield-Doncaster-London route could be a possible with HS2 serving the bulk of Leeds-London demand.

As for integrating HS2 with existing networks, it’s here that policy makers need to look to the best practice of operating companies. In Lyon, a Keolis-led study of passenger habits led to a revision of the bus, metro and tram timetables to segue with one another, which yielded a nine per cent increase in use of the transport system.

The potential barrier to harmonic working here in the UK are regulations which prevent local transport monopolies emerging, though this can be overcome by operators collaborating with one another, or through the support or gentle pressure of local passenger transport executives. Their role, much like local government’s planning investment in existing networks, is significant in helping realise greater connectivity and integration.

Good governance

The political move towards decentralisation of power from Westminster to the regions comes at a fortuitous time for HS2.

City Deals, which grant major cities greater independence over local taxation and investment, are a key vehicle which local governments can leverage to fund the expansion and modernisation of their existing networks.

Manchester stands out for being a city that has already made significant headway in its preparation for HS2 with the expansion of its Metrolink light rail network. Manchester also provides a good example of collaboration between neighbouring local governments. The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities has shown how mutually beneficial decisions on key investments can be made in partnership, as well as how best to attract both public and private investment.

It’s clear that most towns and cities on or close to the HS2 route recognise its enormous economic potential, hence their support, with improved labour connectivity and access to jobs markets the main factor at play.

Job creation

A little talked about aspect of the employment-side of HS2 are the significant job and training opportunities the construction of the project will create. As previous schemes before it and Crossrail today have shown, thousands of new jobs are created and modern skills added to our supply chains when we embark on major infrastructure projects. In many cases, we can and will export this knowledge and expertise overseas so much like the Victorians before us.

The uncertainty which does seem to pervade every major infrastructure project threatens the bold decisions and investments that are needed to maximise their benefits. With absolute certainty that HS2 will progress, our regions can begin the work needed to support its economic and social benefits for the whole nation.

Our report has shown that regional leaders, economists, train operating companies and indeed some politicians know what needs to be done. Once the talking stops and the building begins it’s clear that many of them are ready to move into action.

To download a copy of the report, visit:
Alistair Gordon is chief executive of Keolis UK