Mary Creagh MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
High Speed Two
As Leader of Birmingham City Council and also the lead member for transport on the Core Cities Cabinet may I welcome you to your new role. I am sure all the core cities leaders and mayors will look forward to working with you, as we did with Maria Eagle, to develop a radical and forward looking Labour transport policy.
However I must raise an urgent issue of immediate concern to all of us – the party’s stance on High Speed Two. Whilst we are all concerned to keep the costs of the project under control it is absolutely essential that there is no delay in the schedule and that the cross-party consensus in favour of the project is maintained.
HS2 is the single most important infrastructure project currently planned in terms of bringing growth and jobs to all the city regions – their core cities as well as the surrounding towns and cities - and rebalancing our economy away from London and the South East. The recent KPMG report suggested it will provide a £15bn per year boost to the GB economy, including between £5.5bn and £7.8bn to the connected city regions.
All of the core cities are working hard to develop investment plans that will link up the whole of their city regions to HS2 when it arrives and ensure that maximum value is achieved from the project. Planning is underway for new stations and for the regeneration that will take place around them and at other sites. Private sector investment is already being levered even before construction has begun. It is a One Nation investment project and must be at the heart of Labour’s manifesto for 2015.
Like most big infrastructure projects, HS2 has encountered strong opposition in the planning and consultation stage and it has been difficult to get across the above message because of misinformation about the business case and extreme exaggeration of the likely costs. Recently however the Core Cities have been working closely with DfT, HS2 Ltd and Network Rail, both on project planning and on communicating that message more effectively. Along with Richard Leese in Manchester, I now sit on the HS2 Growth Board.
But I have to say that recent messages from senior Labour politicians have not helped our cause at all. The press release put out in your name yesterday contained very similar words to those used by Ed Balls in his speech in Brighton and appeared to signal a significant weakening of the party’s commitment to the project.
Of course it is important for oppositions to hold governments to account on how they deliver large projects. But the scale of HS2 means it must continue to have the cross-party support it has enjoyed to date and it is important that the party does not end up boosting the opposition to the project by appearing to question its value very publicly.
If the party continues to put out such a negative message on HS2 I will be concerned that there will be a protracted public conflict between the party leadership and the Labour led core cities at a time when we should be working closely together to develop a winning campaign for 2015. So, along with the other core city Labour leaders, I look forward to discussing this issue with you at the earliest opportunity and would appreciate your early response.
Sir Albert Bore
Leader of Birmingham City Council
Core Cities Cabinet Lead Member for Transport