The UK risks becoming too reliant on HS2 to plug the gap in its national transport strategy, analysts have warned.
Transport thinktank Greengauge 21 has said that in order to develop a truly "national" strategy, the UK needs to move away from the “hub-and-spoke” model centred on London to a network that links together upgraded city centre “hub” stations.
It suggests that instead of forming a "Y" shape that will link London with Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester, HS2 should instead form an “X” shape with a new connection in the West Midlands, allowing trains to operate from Bristol and Cardiff to places in the Midlands, the North and Scotland.
In its report, Beyond HS2, Greengauge 21 says a number of regions – including in the East and West Midlands, north east England, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales – have been "left behind" to the detriment of Britain's productivity, which is says lags behind its EU counterparts.
Output per worker in the UK is lower than Italy by 10.5 per cent, by 22.8 per cent when compared with France and by 26.2 per cent when compared with Germany, it says.
"The need for a five-year delivery plan set in the context of a longer term strategy for rail has never been more palpable," it says. "The absence of both strategy and plan puts at risk local, regional and national ambitions: it carries an economic cost.
It added: "We risk becoming over-reliant on the delivery of HS2. The ambition to re-balance the national economy needs much more than HS2; whole regions – the south eest, East Anglia, south Wales, for example – cannot be left to struggle with second-rate and over-stretched transport infrastructure. And it is better if HS2 is not treated as a stand-alone project given its wider potential."
The report also recommends that the East Coast rail line undergoes "a major upgrade" so passengers in the north east are not dependent on indirect HS2 services via Birmingham. New direct rail services for Heathrow airport from across the country should also be installed to support the planned new western rail link, it says.
A DfT spokesperson said HS2 provided the "backbone of our railway system" by "improving connections between our major cities, boosting productivity, delivering better journeys for passengers and driving economic growth across the country".
They added: “The focus now is on maximising the extraordinary benefits of HS2 for everyone. Whilst we may not agree with all recommendations in this report, it is an important contribution to the debate and underlines the need for HS2, delivering the rail network this country needs for the future.”