If government is serious about levelling up, it must commit to building the Eastern Leg of HS2
Government must build HS2’s Eastern Leg, in full, from Birmingham, to Toton in the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds, writes Lilian Greenwood MP. | PA Images
Government must show its commitment to the long-term prosperity of this country. Building HS2’s Eastern Leg will deliver the rail network, jobs and regeneration the Midlands needs to rebound from Covid-19.
During the first lockdown, the public pulled together to help their communities, diligently tuned in to the government’s daily briefings and stood stoically on their doorsteps every Thursday to clap for the NHS.
As the pandemic rumbles on and we enter lockdown 2.0, it is not what pulls us together but what sets us apart, that has come to the fore. Disputes over free school meals and strong-armed tactics with leaders in the Midlands and the North over relief packages have reopened old wounds. The public has lost confidence in the levelling up agenda.
If government is serious about lifting up left behind communities, it must commit to building the Eastern Leg of HS2.
Despite repeated promises from the Prime Minister to invest in deprived communities and redistribute wealth across the UK, these words have not been followed by action. Broken promises and inactivity have taken their toll.
Research shows that just one in five people in the Midlands and the North are convinced government is committed to levelling up. 58 per cent are worried Covid, and its negative impact on public finances, will lead to a widening of social and economic divisions, and 70 per cent think it has stalled efforts to decarbonise.
Government has one chance, before the end of this year, to show its commitment to the environment, to levelling up and to the long-term prosperity of this country. It must build HS2’s Eastern Leg, in full, from Birmingham, to Toton in the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds.
Children born poor in these areas are more likely to stay poor, they are less likely to gain qualifications and they are isolated from opportunity
A report by campaign group HS2 East demonstrates why this investment is so sorely needed. Communities surrounding HS2’s Eastern Leg suffer from lower productivity, receive a lower transport spend (the East Midlands gets the least of any city or region in the UK), and are home to more social mobility cold spots.
These ‘coldspots’ stifle progress. Children born poor in these areas are more likely to stay poor, they are less likely to gain qualifications and they are isolated from opportunity. Crucially, these areas are almost perfectly aligned with those experiencing transport poverty. HS2’s East Midlands Hub at Toton will spark the regeneration of a site larger than London’s Olympic Park, creating a new centre for renewable energy, transforming the site of a coal-fired power station and former army barracks into new garden villages and places to work and socialise.
As well as creating over 80,000 jobs in the East Midlands, Toton forms the basis of a region-wide transport plan that will connect it to over twenty villages, towns and cities. The promise of this national hub has allowed councils to create complementary plans for a tram extension into Nottingham and Derby, new bus rapid transit systems, new train services for Mansfield, the list goes on.
As well as catalysing a huge boost in public transport, giving the East Midlands the functional, usable network it has been crying out for for decades, HS2, when completed, will provide the extra capacity our rail network needs to shift thousands of polluting trucks off the roads and on to rail. It will reduce the need for internal flights and offer the option of fast and efficient zero-carbon travel to passengers. It is an essential step in securing the future of our climate.
It’s clear that the public has lost faith in this government. My constituents are worried about climate change, they are concerned that inequalities will widen and that they will once again be forgotten by decision makers in Westminster.
When government publishes its Integrated Rail Plan in the next few weeks, it must not forget the East Midlands. If it is really committed to levelling-up it will not bypass our region, it will build HS2’s Eastern Leg; delivering the rail network, jobs and regeneration the Midlands needs to rebound from Covid-19.
Lilian Greenwood is the Labour MP for Nottingham South.