An ‘HS4’ route could see Exeter, Plymouth and Bristol linked, forming a network of economies to rival the northern ‘powerhouse’ and the Midlands.
Directors at LSH in Bristol and the South West have called on the Government to make clear a commitment to extend the high-speed rail network to the region amid fears it could be left behind in the race for investment and jobs.
Peter Musgrove, director of office agency in Bristol, said HS4 could provide a link straight from London to Bristol and Exeter and on to Plymouth, opening up Devon, Cornwall and parts of Somerset. It could also take in Southampton and Bournemouth.
He said: “The Government is committed to high speed rail networks delivering economic benefits. Through HS2 and HS3, Birmingham and key northern cities will be better connected increasing business efficiency and regional competitiveness. Our concern is that without HS4 the South West will be disadvantaged – and given the development timescales associated with HS2 and HS3 the effects could be long lasting.”
He continued: “I am staggered that they don’t appear to be looking at Bristol, one of the UK’s major cities. Perhaps as we approach the election businesses will be considering each political party’s economic strategies and considering the implications of ignoring the future needs of Bristol and other south west and south Wales’ cities.
“No matter what happens with the other high-speed links, it is going to have an impact on the South West as other cities become more appealing to occupiers. There is potentially a massive impact on the region.”
Bristol, Exeter and Cardiff are three strong economies with real potential, while some northern cities associated with HS3 are failing economies, said Peter. Plymouth is a city in need of major investment, which could be encouraged by improved links.
Paul Stevens, director of rating, said: “The question is what can we do to protect ourselves against increased competition from the north and the Midlands?
“Do we need to re-gear our economy? I think it is clear that we need to improve the regional pull by linking key cities in our own region. Bristol needs to think about being a South West hub.” He added: “Plymouth would have positive benefits from opening up Exeter. We should improve the Dawlish line too.”
Jaime Blakeley-Glover, director of public sector advisory services, said HS4 would increase capacity for freight and logistics, connect cities and create new jobs. It would also have a positive environmental impact.
But he added: “We need to think carefully about what it is we are trying to achieve. Are we trying to get our cities in the region to link better together or is it the link to London we are trying to improve? If we do that, do we become just another spoke of the wheel and would it have a detrimental effect, sucking people out of the region and into London?”