Nick Herbert: North-South divide is a national failing

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Last Friday I went to an open meeting in Tangmere attended by all the parish councils in South West Sussex.

Their concern was the prospect of excessive housing numbers. They all agreed that new homes were necessary, but at sustainable levels.

In supporting the parish councils, I pointed out that the demand for new houses in England focuses disproportionately on the South East.

The regional imbalance in our country is ever more acute. For every private sector job created in the North and Midlands in the decade to 2008, ten were created in London and the South.

I believe that big changes are needed to redress this imbalance. And that’s one of the reasons why I welcome the latest plans for HS2.

It’s been argued that the high speed rail line won’t save much on journey times to Birmingham. But with the extensions announced this week, journey times to Manchester will be halved, taking just over an hour. Leeds will be under an hour and a half away, again shaving an hour off the time.

In fact, after the full project is completed in 2033, two thirds of people living in the North of England will be within two hours of London. It’s said that this is a long time before completion, but if that were a convincing argument, we’d never start any major infrastructure project.

Yes, this will be an expensive scheme. But the Government believes that HS2 will create 100,000 jobs and deliver £2 of benefit to the economy for every £1 spent.

I also heard it said that faster journey times might mean that more jobs move south. The same logic leads to trade protectionism, which ends up impoverishing everyone.

I appreciate the concern about the impact on the countryside, and any damage must be mitigated. But I reflect that this argument might have prevented the Arun Valley line from being built at all. Railways are far less polluting than roads or air travel.

I think inadequate investment in national infrastructure has been a national failure. So too has the perpetuation of the north-south divide.

Locally, we want the A27 and the Arun Valley railway line to be upgraded, and I’ll continue to make this case strongly. But I think it is in our interests in West Sussex to see HS2 built, too.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at nick@nickherbert.com.