A review of the HS2 rail project has been cautiously welcomed by Lancaster City Council, as it presses ahead with its calls for the city to be a primary stopping station.
The Government has recently published a review to examine the costs and benefits of the HS2 rail project with a “go or no-go” decision by the end of the year. Concerns have already been raised about the future of HS2 and the effect that the scrapping of the project could have on infrastructure and the growth of the northern economy.
As the rail network is vital to the economic prosperity and competitiveness of the Lancaster district, the city council is already actively involved in discussions with local politicians, Lancashire County Council as transport authority for the district, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and major business leaders regarding HS2, and the potential impacts for the district.
As part of these discussions the city council passed a motion in December 2018 restating its position that Lancaster’s mainline station should be a primary stopping station served by HS2 trains. This would provide improved access for businesses, organisations, residents and visitors to the Lancaster District.
Its inclusion as a primary stopping station will also bring with it the potential to improve future transport connections to Morecambe and to the proposed Eden Project North (and the multi-million pound tourism economy this will generate) as well as to the world-class Lancaster University.
Lancaster is currently identified as one of the existing railway stations where some HS2 services would stop, but the final timetables for HS2 services are not yet fixed.
The recent award of the West Coast Partnership (WCP) rail franchise to First Trenitalia West Coast Rail will start a lengthy process to determine the actual HS2 and WCP service timetable.
Yesterday’s announcement by Government that there will be a comprehensive review of the HS2 project provides an opportunity to re-evaluate the primary stations and reinforce Lancaster City Council’s view that Lancaster should be among them.
The council is also of the view that the longer-distance rail network, the regional rail network and the local rail network need to be considered together. This means not only safeguarding existing services and improving capacity from Lancaster along the West Coast line, but also improving connectivity to other locations, including Morecambe, Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire.
The council has been working with specially-appointed rail consultants since last year to help support the case for Lancaster retaining its status as an HS2 stopping station without impacting on the number of passenger services on the West Coast, thus helping develop the thriving regional economy.
Coun John Reynolds, Cabinet Member for planning and transport, said: “We have huge opportunities for business, leisure and tourism growth in the Lancaster district. It is critical therefore that Lancaster has a HS2 stop so that the full potential of that growth is supported by sustainable transport networks.
“We also have space for crew changes and to switch rolling stock so I would urge the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps to visit us at his earliest convenience and review the opportunities we offer as well as the risks of not doing it.”
Conservative County Councillor Charlie Edwards said he has been a keen supporter of HS2 stopping at Lancaster, however he now believes that the priorities locally need to change.
He said: “HS2 is great but the priorities of the council should focus on local transport links now, not in the distant future.
“We need to push for a shuttle or tram link between Lancaster and the Morecambe seafront to prepare for Eden.
“The Conservatives on the County Council have invested in rural bus services and a high speed green bus including the University and the M6 Gateway will be vital.
“A light rail to Preston to link up with the proposed Fylde tram loop would unlock a huge amount of potential for the area, making our transport links better than Greater Manchester’s.
“Finally, we should be lobbying the Government to beef up Heysham Port to increase passenger capacity to build better economic links with Ireland.
“The City Council seem to be missing a trick here, we should be pushing for better services on our doorstep now.”