SNP calls on Westminster to commit to High Speed line to Scotland

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By a Newsnet reporter

Responding to a Commons statement on high-speed rail yesterday, SNP Business and Enterprise spokesperson Mike Weir MP expressed support for the move but called on the Transport Secretary to immediately allow the HS2 delivery company to engage with the Scottish Government in planning for future extension of the link to Scotland.

Currently, the UK Government only proposes to consider extension of the line to Scotland after the hybrid bill stages for London-Birmingham or Birmingham-Manchester are established – a situation that could be 15 or 20 years away.

The £33 billion pound project announced by the UK government envisages tunnelling to minimise the impact of the line in the environmentally and politically sensitive Chilterns region north of London, an affluent area which overwhelmingly returns Conservative MPs to Westminster.  If all goes to plan, the line between London and Birmingham could be in operation by 2026.

Presenting the plans to the House of Commons, Conservative Transport Minister Justine Greeling said that the project represented “the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways”.

However there are no firm plans in place for Scotland to benefit.  Scots will remember that it took many decades of campaigning for Scotland to be connected to the rest of the UK by motorway.  Despite numerous promises from Westminster governments, the final link in the motorway network was only finally built many decades later.  Scottish critics of the UK government’s plans fear that a similar scenario is now developing with high speed rail.

The Scottish Partnership Group for High Speed Rail, formed by Minister for Housing and Transport Keith Brown, has published a report detailing the benefits for business, communities and the environment.  A survey carried out by the Group found that 72.5% of Scottish businesses believe it would attract new investment to the country.  The Fast Track Scotland document also reports that the line would benefit Scotland to the tune of around £24.8 billion.

The report concludes:  “It is imperative that high-speed rail is developed in the UK.  It is also imperative that Scotland is included if the UK is to see the full benefits of its contribution to the economy.”

Another study, this time carried out by Network Rail, concluded that a high speed line between Scotland and London would have the greatest effect in reducing short haul air travel within the UK.  

Mr Weir agreed with the conclusions of the Scottish Partnership Group report and said:

“Scotland is being left in the sidings by the UK Government, and we need a timetabled commitment to delivering high-speed rail connecting Scotland and the South.

“While the first phase of HS2 is a start the UK Government must not wait, but widen the remit of the delivery company to provide a detailed and timetabled plan for extension of the line north to connect with Scotland. This should start now, not after the first phase is completed in 15 or 20 years time.

“High speed rail connecting Scotland to the South of England would transform travel in the UK and would bring huge economic benefits for business.

“It would also bring real benefits for the environment by reducing the number of damaging short-haul flights from Scotland to London.

“Support for this line has been steadily growing with a coalition of Scottish business, government and local authorities backing the case and we need to know if UK Ministers share the Scottish government’s ambition for a high speed line to Scotland, revolutionising rail transport and bringing it into the 21st century.”