Don’t throw good money after bad is a sound principle, and for years alarm bells have been ringing over the moneypit that the HS2 project has become. All around the country, historically underfunded regions like Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have been crying out for cash to link up our key centres, and a share of that HS2 pot would be transformational.
Nobody’s sure of the final price-tag but the HS2 company chairman has warned that costs could soar by another £30 billion over its £56 billion budget. Former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom has suggested the bill could top £100 billion. It’s eyewatering. It takes King’s Dyke to another level.
Pulling the English regions into a joined-up network is about far more than speeding up the North-South journey by 50 minutes. It’s about ensuring that you can actually get a train from March to Cambridge, a trip which should take only 30 minutes but is practically impossible. And the big issue holding back England is not how to go north or south but how to get across the country, from east to west.
So I applaud the courage of the new Johnson administration in putting HS2 back under the microscope - and I won’t be alone in hoping that this particular gravy train is stopped in its tracks - or at least scaled back. Of course a review does not mean HS2 will definitely be scrapped or downsized, but it raises the possibility. I’d like to see those HS2 billions split between the other major transport schemes that could bring far wider benefit to UK Inc, and massively improve travel, trade, and tourism for people throughout our country.
The whole point of devolution was to get big infrastructure projects decided and delivered locally and the truth is, there are already excellent North-South links in place. Getting by train to Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds is not a problem – and joining up those centres better should be done as a regional infrastructure project, jointly planned and managed by the devolved mayoral authorities up north.
The way we deliver new transport infrastructure in this country needs a vigorous shake-up. Like HS2, projects take forever, or end up fizzling out or just costing far too much. There is urgent work to be done. It just needs to be done differently.
If that £86 billion HS2 pot were to be split between the nine mayoral combined authorities, our own cut of £9.5 billion could work wonders in this region. At a stroke, it could pay for our priority transport projects, projects to link our market towns and cities with effective services and make work and social travel affordable.
New rail stations at Soham and Cambridge South, a new rail link to Wisbech, a dualled A47 and A10, a third crossing over the Great Ouse, fresh ways to reform the bus network, including franchising, and the Cambridge Autonomous Metro are among our existing priority rail and road projects to change life here for the better, but cash from the HS2 pot could pay for so much more.
Right now, we are urging people to engage in the consultation on the draft Local Transport Plan and tell us their views. It lays out what we promised: a bold, challenging, world-class, joined-up transport network that loops in everything from cycleways to the ambitious Cambridge Autonomous Metro, one smooth system to get people where they want to be.
This Local Transport Plan is the strategic document that shows how schemes like the Metro hub for Greater Cambridge plugs into wider goals of cutting traffic jams, shortening commutes, speeding up journeys, reducing harm to the environment, connecting more people with job opportunities and delivering a framework to support well-planned new housing, and the continued growth of our regional economy.
Our ambition is simple: to get Cambridgeshire & Peterborough to a position where public transport is recognised as so reliable, affordable, regular and convenient that travellers turn their backs on car use, making us greener as we go.
Transport touches everyone's lives from train, bus and car users, through to people who walk and cycle, so everyone has something to contribute to this consultation which will affect how we travel for decades to come. We urge people to come along, find out more about what the Local Transport Plan is trying to achieve, and give us your insights and views.
The consultation concludes on 27th September