It’s well known Boris Johnson is not a ‘details man’. But his new threat to axe the HS2 high speed rail line, revealed this week, not only risks pushing Birmingham’s economy into recession – it could gut our chance to lead Britain’s Green Revolution.
The man now odds-on to win the Tory leadership was more than happy to propose billions for a brand new London airport.
But when we try and build a green high speed train connecting our second city to the world, he tries to shut it down. And the risks are catastrophic.
Already Brexit is chilling our economy. Unemployment in our region is up by an incredible 24% in the last 12 months alone.
Imagine what cancelling HS2 would do. It is, after all, quite simply the most important economic stimulus north of the Watford Gap.
Deutsche Bank, Jacobs Engineering and HSBC have all relocated to the city, inspired by the promise of high speed rail, with PwC significantly expanding.
At its peak, 30,000 people will be working to build High Speed Two and we expect a whopping £14 billion boost to our regional economy that will support 100,000 jobs.
The Curzon Street Masterplan, complete with £724 million in investment into the surrounding area, will create 36,000 new jobs with up to 77,500 more created at Birmingham Interchange around the airport – which will become closer to London than Gatwick or Stansted, and just an hour from Canary Wharf via the link to Cross-rail at Old Oak Common.
This offers us the tantalising promise of wiping out unemployment in east Birmingham, which currently has the worst youth jobless count in Britain.
But it’s not just jobs at risk. High Speed 2 is the key to building a zero carbon region of clean air, because we have to decarbonise our transport system.
Today our transport accounts for some 40% of carbon emissions which is why Transport for the West Midlands needs a new overriding mandate to deliver a carbon neutral transport system. But we need HS2 if we’re to deliver.
By creating vast new capacity on the current rail network, HS2 allows us to switch thousands upon thousands of tonnes of freight out of lorries and onto rails.
Imagine what that would do for the grid-locked M6 and M42.
And for rail travelers, HS2 emits almost 7 times less carbon emissions per passenger kilometre than the inter-city car journeys, and a massive 17 times less carbon than an equivalent domestic flight.
Now, if the money from cancelling HS2 was earmarked for reinvestment in our region, Boris might have a shred of a defence. But we all know where the cash would really go.
Into his plan for £10 billion a year of proposed tax cuts for Britain’s richest families; plans which according to think tank New Economics Foundation would make the wealthiest 20 per cent of families £1,790 a year better off, while doing nothing to help the poorest 20 per cent.
That’s where the HS2 funding will go. Like a latter day King John, Boris is set to rob those in need to channel cash to those with plenty.
Around the world, modern governments are pouring a forecast $1 trillion of investment into high speed rail. The number of nations putting these systems in place is set to double. Why on earth should we be left behind?
*Liam Byrne is MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill and is standing to become Labour’s candidate for West Midlands mayor