At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, one of the ways we can grow the North East economy and create jobs is by improving transport links to, from and within the region.
The North East Strategic Economic Plan, prepared by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP), makes it clear that we need a national high-speed rail network to support economic growth and in turn this will rebalance the national economy, thus making a stronger UK plc.
Now, in a report published by the High Speed Rail Eastern Network Partnership, we can put a figure on that. According to report authors Arup, the wider economic impact on our eastern route of HS2 is estimated to be £4.2bn.
This partnership comprises all of the local enterprise partnerships along the eastern leg of the proposed HS2 line up to the Scottish Border.
It involves East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, including Tees Valley Unlimited, NELEP, the North East Combined Authority and the Association of North East Councils.
The report culminates in the strong opinion that the eastern route “needs to be built as soon as possible, in advance of, or at least at the same time as the western route”.
It is refreshing to see that the partnership is pressing for faster action and to focus on the North East as a priority.
To most of us the need is clear but we must not forget there are those in Westminster and Whitehall who do not see things in exactly the same way.
It is therefore important that we continue to make the case for East Coast HS2. Which is exactly what the partnership report does – and it comes up with some surprising forecasts.
For instance, the Benefit Cost Ratio to rail users in the east is 5.6 compared to just 2.6 for the Birmingham to Manchester western route and bringing businesses closer together will result in productivity benefits of £2.6bn in the east, some 20% higher than in the west.
The eastern route also serves four of the UK’s eight Core Cities as well as major urban areas such as Bradford, Derby, Tees Valley and York, while the western route has only two Core Cities and no other major urban areas.
HS2 will maximise benefits by bringing city regions outside of London closer together. But it will also require the integration and improvement of rail services on existing lines and new lines to ensure the benefits are enjoyed by the majority.
These plans may seem to be far off, but such major infrastructure investment takes time to plan and implement. That includes the necessary public consultation and the detail of the location of the line.
There is already objection and it will be necessary to ensure that the process is properly consulted and time given to objectors putting their point of view.
However, I cannot see such objection being focused north of Birmingham – in which case, is it not a given that the investment in infrastructure should be started from the north to the south? It would seem to make good economic sense to integrate and speed up connectivity amongst the Core Cities and major conurbations on the eastern route as soon as possible.
That is not just important for us in the North East – and for UK plc – but perhaps it is most important to ensure investment in transport infrastructure today provides benefits for our children and grandchildren, tomorrow and beyond.
Last but not least, linking such improvements to marketing the region will simply make us much more competitive.
Kevan Carrick is a partner at JK Property Consultants LLP and the policy spokesman for RICS North East