Jess Phillips: HS2 naysayers want us to conserve – I want us to progress

Posted On: 
10th June 2019

HS2 unlocks opportunities for Birmingham and the north. We don’t have to choose between that and improved northern infrastructure to open up the London economic log jam, writes Jess Phillips

Birmingham is a city that rebuilds and redevelops itself regularly, but the opportunities offered by HS2 would be transformational, writes Jess Phillips
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I am a fan of HS2. This is not a massive vote winner I grant you. Even though my constituency already has and will continue to benefit from the London to Birmingham scheme, HS2 is not a top concern of my constituents – they neither love it or loathe it on the whole.

I was a fan long before I would personally have benefited from quicker commuter services, mainly because I like modernity. I like most ideas that don’t rely on nostalgia about Victorian infrastructure or the argument that we are doing alright now so why do we need this new-fangled technology. Politics is so rarely future facing, it is rarely bold or hopeful for the new.

As a Brummie, I remember feeling really pleased that someone had remembered we existed when HS2 was first talked about in relation to us, as well as glad that people considered the future.

For at least the last few years I can feel the difference HS2 is making to the place where I live. Before everything slowed down a bit with Brexit inertia there has for a while been a feeling that my city was developing. Birmingham is a city that rebuilds and redevelops itself regularly, but this feels different. It feels as if others wanted a piece of us too. We are a long way off the effects reaching all the parts of my home city but make no mistake the feeling is there.

I have two sons and I really believe that HS2 and what it will bring to Birmingham offers better opportunities for them and their friends. I can feel the changing industries and opportunities. Maybe I should want to cut the apron strings, but I think my sons now have more chance of working in the kind of industries that would have previously meant they had to move to London. Finance, creative industries, architecture and many more are planned or have arrived in our city.

When my husband and I were the age of our sons I don’t think we knew those jobs existed – you worked in manufacturing or the public or voluntary sector. These were the jobs our parents had, and these were the jobs we ended up with. I don’t know how you would evidence this benefit in an economic appraisal or policy report, but I promise you I feel it.

So many of the Tory naysayers about investment in high speed rail don’t understand what it is to have such narrowed horizons. The current Tory Leadership hopefuls seem to be bashing HS2 to please their base because they want to appeal to people who also don’t understand what it feels like to come from a limited economic pool, and who love nostalgia for a time that never existed. They seek, after all, to conserve. I want us to progress.

Are we so lacking in ambition for our country that we can only see in the binary of this or that?

The recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report, Rethinking High Speed 2, makes some pertinent points about the scope, the possible benefits and the opportunity cost of the extension of HS2 beyond Birmingham to the North. Of course, we should be investing in better trans-northern rail infrastructure. The fact that it takes longer to get from Hull to Liverpool than from Glasgow to London – not to mention that you have to change more times than The Independent Group of MPs changes their name – is utterly woeful.

However, I still think that the opportunities that HS2 offers by opening the log jam of the London economy need to spread as far across our country as possible.

Can we not hope to have both? Are we so lacking in ambition for our country that we can only see in the binary of this or that? While we have been debating HS2 and the runways at Heathrow, which I truly believe I will not live to see constructed, countries around the world have developed modern infrastructure that is allowing them to develop and grow. I was in Beijing recently and their high-speed rail stations look like something from science fiction and make Euston look like a shack where you would tether your horse and cart.

We should not still be relying on Victorian infrastructure but instead rely on Victorian spirit because, as someone who grew up in the place that was the belly of the industrial revelation, those Victorians were ruthless in the pursuit of progress and modernisation.

We should get on with modernising our infrastructure and thinking about our future, because HS2 has genuinely modernised the future of my family.

Jess Phillips is Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley