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I firmly support the delivery of a new north-south rail line, because faster journeys will bring the constituent parts of our island closer together.
As a Scottish MP, my views on HS2 as it affects and, indeed, benefits Scotland, are coloured by the area I represent. The announcement of plans to extend the high-speed rail network north of Birmingham is welcome news, but it is right that all parts of the country, including of course Scotland, should benefit from such a significant expansion of the country’s transport infrastructure. As it stands, the plan takes high-speed rail only halfway from London to Scotland, so there is a real necessity to extend the network further north to Edinburgh and Glasgow. These better services would provide benefits to the Scottish economy of about £3 billion, as businesses in the cities would be able to operate more efficiently, increasing their productivity while accessing new markets and labour pools. Firms throughout the UK would be able to look to Scotland for business opportunities that distance and congestion had previously made less attractive. Tourism on both sides of the border would be boosted as the UK was opened up to faster, more convenient travel. Scotland’s strong engineering base might also benefit from the employment opportunities that the planning and construction of High Speed 2 will provide.
Importantly for Scotland, bringing Edinburgh and Glasgow closer to London, as well as to the cities of the midlands and the north of England, would undoubtedly boost growth across all of its major conurbations. It would also open up the opportunity for through trains to run from Scotland to Paris and Brussels.
The argument is reinforced by reports that estimate that the regional economic benefits of high-speed rail for central Scotland would be about £20 billion over a 60 year period, which compares with £5.4 billion for the west midlands. Studies reiterate that the most cost-effective option for a rail route between London and Scotland is a new high-speed route that connects London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Such a network would be expected to deliver up to £50 billion of business benefits alone. That would be felt greatly in Scotland and the north of England, as well as in the south.
We need extra capacity on north-south routes sooner rather than later and all northern cities must be able to link into those routes. It is apparent that that might not be fully realised. I understand that the HS2 technical director has described the construction of the UK’s high-speed rail network as the work of generations. It will be many years before England and Scotland are connected in this way. Public opinion demands that the high-speed network be extended north of the border. Concerns have also been expressed about the lack of information about funding, costs, routes and the location of terminal stations.
To sum up, the Scottish end of the UK’s high-speed network should be built as soon as possible so that we can have the immediate benefit of a high-speed line between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I call on the Minister to commit to a concrete timetable for extending high-speed rail to Scotland. Not only would high-speed rail boost the Scottish economy and support thousands of jobs in Scotland and throughout the UK, but it would give us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the economic geography of the whole country.