The HS2 rail project, which is expected to cost upwards of around £106bn, will see a high-speed line built from London go 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, direct services from the capital will only serve Carlisle, forcing passengers from elsewhere in Cumbria to either take a service northwards first or change at Preston.
This coming Tuesday will see HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson MP, holding an hour-long online event: ‘HS2: How can North West businesses get involved?’.
The Q&A event is an opportunity for North West businesses to find out how they can get involved and join the HS2 supply chain, no matter what their size or sector.
But it also highlights that for commuters and businesses, especially in south Cumbria, that HS2 could be a backwards step.
John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle, has quite rightly said the latest proposals are “very attractive” in creating a “considerable saving” over the journey times to and from London to the border city. But this isn’t the same for elsewhere in Cumbria.
Businesses in hospitality and tourism are some of those that could be the heaviest hit from losing a direct service to London, with many potential visitors taking preference for a direct service rather than one which is marginally quicker yet far more frantic and at the whim of inter-connections running smoothly.
Suzanne Caldwell, Managing Director of Cumbria Chamber, said: “Improving connectivity is a sure-fire way to boost growth and raise productivity. HS2 certainly has the potential to do that.
“Our concern is that when these high-speed trains join the existing tracks, to continue their journey to Scotland, they won’t stop in Cumbria as they currently do and a large area of the county will lose its direct rail service to the capital.
“We’ve been lobbying for several years for HS2 trains to observe the existing stopping pattern north of Preston.
“Avanti, the operator on the West Coast Main Line, agrees with us.
“It would be self-defeating to force passengers between Carlisle and London to either change at Preston or add nearly 50 miles to their journey by having to go cross-county.
“So we’ll continue to make the case for HS2 services to call at Oxenholme and Penrith as well as Carlisle.”
Improving connectivity is a sure-fire way to boost growth and raise productivity
Early last year the Government launched a new National Bus Strategy and pledged to spend £5bn over the next five years to improve bus services and cycling provision.
Luke Jarmyn, Business Engagement Manager at the Chamber, added: “A strong physical connectivity to London and key local hubs via public transport is critical in helping drive modern professionals move away from the capital.
“The onset of the global Covid pandemic has been a big reset button and a significant number of skilled workers are looking to relocate, but having direct fast trains to Penrith and Oxenholme remains key to facilitating that movement and investment.
“Employers tell us that a lack of buses in Cumbria makes it harder for them to recruit staff while high fares deter people from travelling from areas of higher unemployment, such as Barrow, to take jobs elsewhere.
“Bus services in Cumbria don’t receive any public subsidy while in London buses receive £722m a year – that can’t be right. We hope that some of this extra money will find its way here to redress the balance.”
**You can sign up to take part in the Q&A event from 11am on Tuesday with Andrew Stephenson MP, which will include Cheshire-based Select Cabin talking about how they got involved with HS2 and how it has helped their business to grow, by clicking here.
**Any businesses who wish to engage with the Chamber to share their concerns, issues or queries can email Luke on firstname.lastname@example.org