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HS2 marks a once-in-a-lifetime chance to transform the UK

Change is rarely easy, rarely straightforward and is often seen as simply too frightening and not worth the risk.

But without change and innovation we wouldn’t have email or the internet, nor iconic buildings such as the Shard, and we wouldn’t have a transportation network that has enabled the UK to become one of the biggest economic powerhouses in the West.

High Speed 2 will not just change this country, it will radically transform it, rebalancing the economy and making sure the North and the Midlands benefit from the recovery as well.

Bursting at the seams

We haven’t built a new mainline north of London for 120 years or a full north-south motorway for 40 years, but year after year we travel more as our population rises and our economy grows and we need to keep up.

“Critics continually suggest upgrades to existing infrastructure as some kind of magic wand that can be waved”

Rail travel has doubled in less than 20 years and it keeps on rising. Our key main lines to the North will be bursting at the seams if we don’t act.

Just upgrading the West Coast and Chiltern lines from London to Birmingham, for example, would cost more than the equivalent section of HS2 and provide only two-thirds of the capacity.

Critics continually suggest upgrades to existing infrastructure as some kind of magic wand that can be waved, but we simply cannot carry on with a ‘make do and mend’ approach.

Wider improvement

It’s not just a case of HS2 and nothing else. We are investing more than £56bn on roads, rail and local transport from 2015 to 2021, although many critics choose to ignore this fact.

“Britain’s bullet train could create 22,000 construction related jobs in the next five years, rising to a maximum of 50,000”

We’ve already delivered High Speed 1 on time and on budget, while Crossrail - the biggest infrastructure project in Europe - is on schedule to open in 2018 on or under budget.

Now HS2 is primed to pick up where Crossrail left off, to learn from its success in awarding billions of pounds of contracts to British companies and to transform the transport network for millions of people outside of London.

Jobs bounty

Jobs follow good transport. A recent study by Greengauge 21 has found that Britain’s bullet train could create 22,000 construction related jobs in the next five years, rising to a maximum of 50,000 construction jobs by the late 2020s.

On top of this we estimate more than 2,000 apprentices could be employed in construction jobs - nearly five times more than either Crossrail or the Olympics. Then there’s the 400,000 jobs the Core Cities group predict HS2 will help underpin across the country.

The HS2 Growth Taskforce, led by commercial secretary and former Olympics chief Lord Deighton, will be working hard to see how we can achieve this and more.

They will be doing all they can to gear up British industry ahead of HS2, looking at skills gaps, procurement models and possible bottlenecks in the supply chain.

With the recent appointment of construction magnate Ray O’Rourke to the panel, their focus on growth and regeneration will be relentless.

HS2 is a once-in-a-lifetime chance and we need to ensure we maximise every opportunity it offers.

Simon Burns is transport minister with responsibility for High Speed 2

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