Looking in on BBC Question Time is not a regular habit of mine, but I did manage a few minutes last night before deciding that crashing out was a more productive option. And what I saw was a panel so poorly informed and clueless about the question put to them that a decision was made to put them all straight later. And so, in the coldish light of day, here goes.
Not just about shiny new trains
“Is reducing the travelling time from Manchester to London worth £30 billion?” was that first question. Some panellists mentioned “capacity”, Dom Joly was unhappy about his local rail services, and James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole hinted at an elitist conspiracy. But none of them addressed the wider issues, nor that it was not just about Manchester.
HS2, which was alluded to by the questioner, will indeed have a branch serving Manchester, and that city will see the North West’s most significant journey time reductions. But the new line will also link to the existing network near Wigan, bringing Lancaster – where last night’s broadcast came from – easily within two hours of London, an improvement of more than half an hour.
Faster journey times will also benefit Liverpool – which will be only an hour and a half from the capital – and Chester. But it’s not just about the railways: there will be potentially three extra paths every hour on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) for freight, with the prospect of up to 150 lorry movements – every hour – being removed from the M1, M6 and M40.
For those who drive – and I expect this applied to most of last night’s audience – that’s a big plus. And on top of that, there will be more capacity for commuters from Milton Keynes and the new Delingpole home city of Northampton, where peak times see a train occupancy rate of 94% (and rising). Those additional trains will deliver faster commuting. Again, HS2 isn’t just about Manchester.
Running alongside the new high speed line’s construction is a programme of electrification and other system improvements, benefiting the rest of the North West – work is already in hand to bring more electric trains to Manchester and Liverpool local networks – and also the west of England, as electric working comes to the Great Western main line to Bristol and South Wales.
There will be new trains that can run under their own power away from electrified lines, so Dom Joly will also benefit, even though his local line will not see the overhead wires that will only reach as close as Swindon. These improvements will also see faster, as well as newer trains. Again, it’s not just for the benefit of Manchester, it’s not just about high speed trains, and it’s not just benefiting railways.
And so my contention would be that it most certainly is worth it. Back to you, David.