A recent report by the Smith Institute with PwC and Newcastle University questions whether HS2 is a priority for the North of England.
The report confirms the serious and long-term nature of the North-South divide, and says it is likely to widen. Controversially for the government, this is in large part due to an analysis of the regional consequences of the recent Spending Review, conducted by Price Waterhouse Cooper. This suggests that the North will suffer disproportionately from public spending cuts and job losses, and questions whether the private sector will be able to plug the gap. It concludes that there are neither robust institutional arrangements or sufficient resources being devoted to closing the North-South gap.
If this is correct, it is easy to see why the government is keen to present HS2 as a way of bridging the North-South divide.
However the Smith Institute questions whether HS2 is what the North needs. It asks ‘whether the HS2 investment programme is really the right one?’. It concludes that ‘what is really needed is an integrated transport plan for the North’ in which access to London is only one of several criteria to be considered.
The report, Rebalancing the Economy: Prospects for the North, is the outcome of a ‘fair deal for the North’ enquiry involving 150 key public and private stakeholders.
The government has made it clear that it expects voices from the North to be strongly supportive of HS2. Does this report indicate that this is far from certain?