The much publicised Westminster government's plans to extend the HS2 rail development to Manchester (Stage 2) has stirred up a whole range of reactions in England from approval to objections and much in between. This investment focuses on creating a high speed rail spine in England from London to Birmingham and then onto Manchester and Leeds.
The Scottish Government has rightly called for a "concrete timetable" to extend the HS2 high-speed rail network to Edinburgh and Glasgow, calling on the UK Department for Transport to clearly spell out when high-speed rail project would reach Scotland. Fair play to Scotland Now that’s fair enough but what about Wales, will we see any benefits (fringe or otherwise)? Over to the Welsh Government then... ?
Labour in Wales’s less than eloquent silence aside, the bottom line is quite simple if unionists want the union to work for all of its inhabitants then what’s Wales’s share of the investment in the transport infrastructure programme. The Westminster Government has to ensure that any investment in transport infrastructure must benefit the whole of the UK, not just England. If the unionists believe in fair funding for the constituent parts of the UK then Wales is owed a Barnett consequential of approximately £1.9 billion from the projected HS2 spend.
If David Cameron is serious about making the union work then it’s time that this Westminster Government to urgently review the flawed and unfair funding arrangements. The lack of investment (and lack vision) that exists when it comes to developing and improving Welsh transport links that goes way beyond the current (and historical) poor financial settlement. The electrification of the great western line from Swansea to Cardiff (and beyond) is significant but is long overdue.
The electrification of the Glasgow-London line was completed in 1974, if nothing else this highlights how far behind (if not out of sight and out of mind) we are in terms of any improvements to transport links. It is also worth noting that Liverpool has long had an electrified rail link to London and has scarcely benefited economically from it. The commitment to electrify the Valley lines is a major step forward, but, as yet Wales, Albania and Moldova have no electrified railways at all.
If we are serious about delivering reliable, effective and sustainable all weather communications to our communities then it’s time to consider reopening old railway lines to passenger and rail freight. Reopening the old railway lines between Llangefni on Anglesey, Caernarfon to Bangor, Aberdare and Hirwaun (in the Cynon valley) and Usk (via Little Mill) to the main line and between Builth Road to Builth would make a real difference.
Having a minor let alone a major infrastructure investment policy that functions outside of England would demonstrate that this Westminster Government is actually serious about making the union work for all its inhabitants. Investing in our public transport system would reduce carbon emissions and cut road congestion. Reopening and refurbishing our old railways and upgrading our existing lines for passenger and fright traffic could provide serious economic stimulation to the local economies and provide a real opportunity for our people.