The £56bn HS2 rail project will see a high-speed line built from London as far north as Golborne Junction, near Wigan, from where HS2 trains will continue over existing tracks to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
However, as the plans stand, they won’t stop north of Preston forcing passengers from Cumbria to change at Preston.
We’ve long argued that this would damage the county’s economy and send out the wrong signal to potential inward investors.
Our Business Engagement Manager, Julian Whittle, recently visited London to lobby the Minister for HS2, Nusrat Ghani.
She asked us to prepare a business case for Cumbrian stops, which we have just submitted to HS2 as part of the draft consultation on its Phase 2b working draft Environmental Statement.
You can read the submission in full below.
Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is the largest representative business organisation in Cumbria with 1,500 member businesses
We believe that HS2’s proposal that its London-Scotland services will pass through the county without stopping would damage our economy.
That’s the view of the overwhelming majority of Cumbrian businesses that completed our survey on transport issues in 2018.
We would be relegated to branch-line status. That would send a message to potential inward investors that Cumbria is a backwater.
It is anything but.
Our county is a vibrant place with a world-class tourism offer and cutting-edge advanced manufacturing, energy and food businesses.
We have a compelling case for HS2 connectivity.
This submission argues for London-Scotland services to maintain the present stopping pattern north of Preston where HS2 trains will travel over the existing network. It has the backing of MPs, local authorities and Cumbria Tourism.
HS2 is supposed to benefit all of the North, not just the metropolitan centres.
Cumbria will not share those benefits if the trains don’t stop.
Rob Johnston, MBE, FCIM
Chief Executive, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce
Rail in Cumbria: a phenomenal growth story
Rail usage in Cumbria has grown strongly since the upgrade to the West Coast Main Line and the introduction of 125mph Pendolino trains in 2004.
These reduced the fastest time for the 300-mile journey from Carlisle to London to 3¼ hours and improved punctuality and reliability.
The table below shows the number of passengers using Cumbrian stations on the West Coast Main Line and the growth in those numbers since 2004-5.
Fig 1: Station usage
Entries and exits
Penrith North Lakes
Oxenholme Lake District
Carlisle’s growth is lower because the station serves five rail routes, which haven’t all experienced the level of growth seen on the West Coast Main Line.
Growth has been achieved with a stopping pattern for London-Glasgow trains that sees all call at Carlisle and many at Lancaster, Oxenholme and Penrith.
Fig 2: Existing stopping pattern London-Glasgow direct services
All London-Glasgow trains
Calling at Carlisle
Calling at Penrith North Lakes
Calling at Oxenholme Lake District
Calling at Lancaster
Fig 3: Existing stopping pattern Glasgow-London direct services
All Glasgow-London trains
Calling at Carlisle
Calling at Penrith North Lakes
Calling at Oxenholme Lake District
Calling at Lancaster
Given the impressive growth in passenger numbers since 2004, why change a winning formula?
Yet HS2 intends to do exactly that, operating all its London-Scotland services non-stop north of Preston, forcing Cumbrian passengers to change trains at Preston.
This risks a decline in rail patronage.
While HS2 would deliver shorter journey times, even with a change at Preston, many passengers value the convenience of a through service more than a reduction in journey time.
This is especially true for tourists with heavy luggage and business travellers who like to work without interruption. For all travellers, a change of trains introduces the potential for a missed connection.
Figure 4: Cumbria’s Rail Network
The map above illustrates how the West Coast Main Line is an integral part of Cumbria’s public transport network.
Carlisle is a major rail interchange while Oxenholme has a feeder line to Windermere in the Lake District National Park and Penrith has an hourly bus from the station forecourt to Keswick, Cockermouth and Workington. This connectivity would be lost if HS2’s London services fail to serve these stations.
Land of opportunity: Cumbria’s offer to HS2
Cumbria has a resident population of 498,000 but our numbers are swelled by a huge influx of tourists
The county contains the whole of the Lake District National Park, a substantial portion of the Yorkshire Dales, three designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and two World Heritage Sites – the Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall. Windermere Lake Cruises is the fourth most popular paid-for visitor attraction in England.
In 2017, Cumbria enjoyed its fifth consecutive year of tourism growth. The county received more than 47m visitors, made up of 40.7m day trippers and 6.6m overnight visitors. They boosted our economy by £2.9bn and supported 65,000 jobs, 20% of the county’s total employment.
Good rail connectivity is crucial to the success of the visitor economy.
“With growing numbers of visitors, now two World Heritage Statuses, it is imperative that HS2 includes stops in Cumbria. We know that when visitors, carrying luggage, need to change trains it has a negative impact on their decision to travel. With growing international visitors to the UK and the North West, it’s key that we provide a first-class train service to one of the most popular visitor destinations.” Gill Haigh, Managing Director, Cumbria Tourism
Failure to provide direct HS2 connectivity would undermine efforts by the Lake District National Park to promote sustainable transport.
Its Visitor Travel Strategy, published in September 2018, aims to reduce the number of visitors arriving by car from 83% to 64% by 2040.
“We currently have a good through service to London Euston. Business travellers can work uninterrupted and leisure travellers, many of whom have considerable amounts of baggage, can stow their luggage and enjoy a through journey. The alternative of a change at Preston, which involves the risk of missed connections to save 40 minutes, simply won’t be attractive to many. For those who work when travelling, myself included, the disruption of having to change will negate the benefit of any time saving and certainly won’t improve productivity.” Nigel Wilkinson, MD of Winander Leisure, operator of Windermere Lake Cruises
There is more to Cumbria’s economy than tourism.
Manufacturing is responsible for nearly 25% of our GVA, almost 2.5 times the national average.
Cumbria has world-class manufacturing and energy businesses.
BAE Systems at Barrow is building the new generation of Dreadnought submarines to carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
GSK manufactures antibiotics at Ulverston.
Sellafield is a global leader in nuclear reprocessing and decommissioning.
Walney Extension, off Barrow, is the world’s largest operational offshore windfarm.
Then there are lesser-known success stories such as SIS Pitches, in Maryport, which installed the pitch at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on which the World Cup Final was played last summer.
Innovia supplies polymer bank notes to 24 countries. The company’s Wigton HQ in Cumbria makes the material for the UK’s polymer £5 and £10 notes.
We also have a strong farming and food processing sector including a major supplier of ready meals to Marks & Spencer, Europe’s second-largest biscuit factory and Britain’s first dedicated free-from bakery.
Businesses like these trade across the globe and depend on good connectivity. Denying them direct access to HS2 trains to London would be an act of economic self-harm.
The biggest long-term challenge that Cumbria faces is a shrinking workforce as the number of retirees exceeds the number of young people starting work. Our working-age population is projected to shrink by 35,000 by 2036.
The Cumbrian labour market is already tight, particularly along the West Coast Main Line corridor. The unemployment rates in Eden (which contains Penrith station) and South Lakeland (Oxenholme) are the lowest of any local authority areas in England at 1.7% and 1.8% respectively.
The county needs to persuade thousands of younger people to move here simply to sustain the economy we have and fill existing jobs.
Our local authorities are drawing up plans for house-building programmes to accommodate these inward migrants.
Carlisle, for example, will have St Cuthbert’s Garden Village, the largest of the Government’s 14 garden village projects with up to 10,000 homes.
Eden Council envisages the building of up 5,560 homes around Penrith.
The incoming population Cumbria hopes to attract won’t come if people feel disconnected from friends and families in other parts of the country.
“In 2018 we unveiled the Penrith Strategic Master Plan, which has begun a discussion on how Penrith can grow over the next three decades. It makes provision for 5,560 homes, 7,000 new jobs and three new settlements. Maintaining and improving our connectivity to London is crucial to delivering this vision, which is why it is vital that HS2 stops at Penrith.” Councillor Kevin Beaty, Leader, Eden District Council
Similarly, Andrew Atherton, Professor of Enterprise and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Lancaster, has identified a trend for tech, consultancy and high-value service businesses to leave London and other large cities because of the high cost of operating there.
He argues that they will move to areas of the country that can offer lower costs, a high quality of life and good connectivity.
This presents an opportunity for Cumbria, with its attractive natural environment, but only if rail links to London are maintained and improved.
HS2 can play a vital role in that – if the trains stop here.
The case for a Carlisle stop
Of the three Cumbrian stations on the West Coast Main Line, Carlisle has the strongest case for an HS2 stop.
HS2 recognises this in its Environmental Statement. The document considers whether the dividing and rejoining of HS2 trains into separate portions to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh could take place at Carlisle, which would allow passengers to board and alight.
Whether or not that happens, there is an unanswerable case for London-Scotland HS2 trains to call at Carlisle.
It is the administrative capital of Cumbria and the largest settlement, with a population of 72,000 in the city itself and 108,000 for the wider Carlisle district. This is set to grow with the development of St Cuthbert’s Garden Village.
Major employers include Pirelli, McVitie’s and 2 Sisters Food Group, and Carlisle is home to Cumbria’s only Enterprise Zone, Kingmoor Park.
It is the gateway to the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site and the western access point for the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail.
“HS2 plays a fundamental and important role in our ambition for the region and it is essential that we secure a stop in Carlisle to support our vision. This will provide the confidence for business to make investment decisions and help to deliver our vision.” Councillor Colin Glover, Leader, Carlisle City Council
The city is a major rail interchange. As well as the West Coast Main Line, there are routes to Newcastle, Leeds, Glasgow via Dumfries and the Cumbrian Coast line, which rejoins the West Coast Main Line at Lancaster.
Carlisle is also the gateway to and the largest settlement in the Borderlands, a name coined to cover the region straddling the Anglo-Scottish border. The Government is in talks with local authorities about a Borderlands Growth Deal, which would bring devolved spending from Westminster and Holyrood.
Projects under consideration include a transport interchange for Carlisle railway station and a feasibility study into extending the Borders Railway, reopened in 2015 from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, through to Carlisle.
It would undermine the credibility of a Borderlands Growth Deal if HS2 trains to London passed through Carlisle without stopping.
The case for Penrith, Oxenholme and Lancaster
Penrith and Oxenholme provide access to the Lake District, the largest national park in England.
Indeed the stations, originally plain ‘Penrith’ and ‘Oxenholme’, were renamed as ‘Penrith North Lakes’ and ‘Oxenholme The Lake District’ to reflect this.
Penrith offers bus connections from the station forecourt west to Keswick, Cockermouth and Workington, and southwest to Ullswater.
The station is five miles from Whinfell Forest, the largest of Center Parcs’ UK holiday parks with accommodation for nearly 5,000 guests.
Penrith is the administrative centre of Eden district. It is a vibrant market town, serving a large rural hinterland, with a population of 15,200 that is set to rise substantially as a result of Eden Council’s Strategic Vision Masterplan.
“It is absolutely vital that HS2 stops at Penrith. The extra capacity HS2 offers would bring real benefits to Cumbria and our communities – and not simply in economic terms. It would support our key income earner – tourism – which itself supports much of the fabric of my constituency in terms of business and leisure. I have long campaigned for a Penrith stop and will continue to do so as I believe it has the potential to make a real difference to my constituents.” Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border
Oxenholme is the main line station for Kendal, two miles way.
Passengers alighting at Oxenholme can join a connecting train for Windermere, a journey of around 20 minutes. This feeder line has a station in Kendal.
Windermere is the principal rail head for the Lake District National Park.
There are onward bus connections from Windermere station to Bowness-on-Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere, Keswick, Langdale, Hawkshead, Coniston and, in summer, over the Kirkstone Pass to Ullswater.
Kendal has a population of 25,400 and is the administrative capital of South Lakeland, the most populous and prosperous district of Cumbria. It features in the Sunday Times’ list of ‘Best places to Live’ in the UK.
Like Penrith, Kendal is a thriving market town. It has evolved as a hub for the arts and creative industries and is a prime contender to lure tech and creative businesses seeking to relocate from London to a lower-cost location.
“South Lakeland is the fastest-growing economy in Cumbia. It is listed as one of the North West’s top five vibrant economies by Grant Thornton while the Northern Powerhouse placed South Lakeland as the most ‘liveable’ place in the North of England. All this has been achieved against a backdrop of outdated infrastructure. HS2 represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to capitalise on the World Heritage designation for tourism. Not stopping north of Preston risks by-passing this opportunity.” Councillor Graham Vincent, Portfolio Holder – Economy, South Lakeland District Council
Major employers include James Cropper, which manufactures some of the world’s most technically-advanced paper products, the hydro power specialist Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon and Kendal Nutricare, the only UK manufacturer of infant formula and a major exporter to China.
Lancaster is outside Cumbria but is the rail junction for the Cumbria Coast Line serving Ulverston, Barrow-in-Furness and Sellafield.
Barrow is the second-largest settlement in Cumbria and is home to BAE Systems’ shipyard. Ulverston’s employers include GSK and Oxley, a supplier of LED lighting and other components to the defence and aerospace industries.
Good HS2 connectivity is vital for businesses like these and for Sellafield, the UK’s largest nuclear site employing 11,000 people.
What Cumbrian businesses say: Are you listening?
At the beginning of 2018 Cumbria Chamber of Commerce asked the county’s businesses about transport issues to shape our response to the consultation on Transport for the North’s Draft Strategic Plan.
One of the questions in our survey was:
‘HS2 proposes that its high-speed trains from London will pass through Cumbria without stopping, forcing passengers to change at Preston. Would this affect your business, and if so how?’
Of the 141 businesses to complete the survey, 65% said their business would be harmed if HS2’s London trains don’t stop.
Here’s a selection of their comments:
“It would be insane for HS2 to bypass Cumbria, which is a vibrant business community not simply a tourist destination.”
“It would be a missed opportunity to capitalise on World Heritage Site [designation] for the Lake District. Cutting out Carlisle could negatively impact upon its economic growth.”
“We need to encourage more international visitors to stop off on their way to Scotland. This proposal would worsen the situation.”
“This is an absolute disgrace and needs reconsidering.”
“I travel to London regularly and don’t want to have to change trains to do so.”
“International visitors will experience inconvenience at having to change trains twice [at Preston and Oxenholme] for the Lake District.”
“We are building a training centre, which will be five minutes’ walk from Carlisle station. This will have an effect on our intake.”
“This is a real negative for the county and for all businesses.”
“Why bypass the second largest English tourist destination outside of London? Madness. We have international customers who would love such a service.”
“Not stopping in Cumbria is crazy. A big inconvenience and hugely disruptive on journeys to London. Cumbria needs better transport links and economic growth, not economic penalties.”
“As a tourist attraction that works with International customers, [access] needs to be as easy as possible. Changing trains is not easy for those whose first language is not English.”
“HS2 should support all of Britain, not just London.”
“Once again, Cumbria is forgotten.”
“It would not help us to make a case for Carlisle as a place to do business. We would become even more anonymous.”
“Trains should be forced to make at least one stop in Cumbria – Cumbrian taxpayers will be funding HS2.”
“We are a global player, we need high speed access to cities. This service must have a Cumbrian stop.”
“This will be an absolute disaster for Cumbria and the tourist industry. Increasingly our guests are from overseas and it is always difficult to negotiate a transport system in another language. I cannot emphasise too strongly that we must fight this idea with all the powers we have.”
“This is a ludicrous situation. Carlisle has the capacity and population to justify HS2 stopping. The number of fleet-of-foot businesses doing more and more trade in the South will continue to grow if the link to London is improved.”
“The need to change at Preston would be a barrier to people using the train to access the Lake District. This in turn would add to the number choosing to use their cars and compound congestion and parking issues.”
“What an absolute joke.”
When HS2 trains from London pull into Preston station, they will be half way on their journey to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
As things stand, they won’t stop again until they reach their destination.
What message does that send to the vast swathe of northern England and southern Scotland that will, effectively, be bypassed?
What message does it send to potential inward investors?
“It remains a complete own goal for the Government that these hugely expensive high-speed trains won’t be stopping at Britain’s second biggest visitor destination. If the Government don’t reconsider then this will be a huge blow to the tourism industry here in Cumbria which is so important for jobs and the local economy.” Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale
There is a strong case for HS2 trains to observe the existing stopping pattern once they join the ‘classic’ network at Golborne Junction near Wigan.
No new stations or major investment in infrastructure would be needed.
The stops would add only a few minutes to journey times but would provide direct access to the Lake District, to Cumbria’s advanced manufacturing and energy industries, and to the city of Carlisle and the Borderlands region.
The case for a stop in Carlisle is irrefutable especially if, as outlined in HS2’s Environmental Statement, it can be combined with an operational requirement to divide trains into Glasgow and Edinburgh portions.
“An HS2 stop would undoubtedly benefit Carlisle. The city has a strong manufacturing heritage that includes both national and international factories. In addition, Carlisle is at the centre of the Borderlands initiative. Transport and accessibility is important to continue attracting investment and developing our city. The case for this can be strengthened through better rail links, making Carlisle a more accessible place to live and work.” John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle, Chair of the West Coast Main Line All-Party Parliamentary Group
If HS2 leads to any reduction in the number of London trains calling at Carlisle, Penrith, Oxenholme or Lancaster, we would urge the retention of the existing Pendolino service, alongside HS2, and the extension of Barrow-Lancaster and Windermere-Oxenholme trains to Preston to provide better HS2 connectivity.