High speed rail travel could bring more than 75,000 extra visitors to Preston each year, and boost the city’s economy by more than £3m.
That’s according to a new report published by the chairman of HS2 which, if approved, will see Preston become a hub station and cut journey times to the capital by 51 minutes.
Phase two of the major proposals would see the HS2 line extended from Birmingham to Manchester, with high speed trains continuing on the West Coast Mainline as far as Carlisle.
Leaders have described HS2 as a “tremendous opportunity” for Preston, Lancashire and the North West, with businesses and tourism hoped to see growth through “improved connectivity”.
Supporters say in the long term, productivity gains from the high speed rail project could help provide an extra £600m for the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership region, and 3,000 additional jobs in Preston and South Ribble.
In Preston itself, HS2 could mean 75,000 extra visitors a year, adding £3.3 million to the city’s economy annually.
Coun Peter Rankin, leader of Preston Council, said: “HS2 is a tremendous opportunity not only for Preston but for Lancashire and the wider region too.
“Preston is already a strategic transport hub but HS2 really takes this to the next level.
“It provides another major incentive to invest in Preston for office, employment and residential development.
“It’s the logical next step in terms of building on the current investment and future legacy of the £430M Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal.”
HS2 trains will join the West Coast Mainline at Golborne and continue up to Wigan, Preston and Carlisle, cutting journey times between Preston and Birmingham to 49 minutes and Preston and London to one hour and 17 minutes.
As set out in the report “Changing Britain: HS2 taking root”, the “integrated high speed station” at Preston will be “at the heart of one of Britain’s most networked cities”.
It said: “The Central Lancashire station is already the busiest in the North West outside Manchester and Liverpool, and acts as a strategic hub with regular services to London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as throughout Lancashire.”
Edwin Booth, chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “For Lancashire to maximise its role at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse it needs better connectivity including faster, more frequent and higher capacity train services.
“Many of the benefits outlined in the Changing Britain report echo those identified in our own Transport Prospectus published earlier this year.
“It reinforces that major investments into Lancashire’s rail infrastructure, could generate 1,000s of new jobs and unlock significant economic opportunities across a wide range of sectors throughout the entire county.
“The report also highlights how initiatives like HS2 are fully aligned to other integrated LEP investment programmes such as the City Deal which is set to deliver £400m worth of new homes, commercial districts and transport links in and around Preston and South Ribble over the next decade.”
Business leaders describe high speed rail for the area as a “vital factor to rebalance the local economy and allow Lancashire to compete again”.
David Higgins, HS2 chairman, said: “Two years ago, local leaders asked me to make sure that HS2 was fully integrated into the existing transport and local economies.
“It’s an aspiration we’ve sought to realise, but even I underestimated how far that principle would take us.
“Much of the early focus on HS2 has been on journey times to London.
“However, as the Changing Britain: HS2 taking root report and Preston’s work proves, it is the inter-regional benefits and early planning from Councils and Local Authorities to harness these which will transform areas such as Preston in the longer term.”
Rail improvement projects are already planned for the region, including the electrification of lines between Preston, Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool.
It is thought the HS2 project will be completed by 2033.
However, some transport groups have questioned whether the scheme will ever go ahead.
Roger Bell, from the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association (OPSTA), said: “I think the whole idea is a bit pie in the sky to be honest. We’re going to have to wait almost 20 years for it to happen and that’s if it does but is it really that much better anyway? Knocking 50 minutes off a journey to London isn’t worth the money, if you haven’t got a few hours to get to London then should you be going anyway? There are much more important things we could be spending the money on. The only good thing it would do is possibly reduce congestion in the north-west but to be honest I’m not paying it much attention because I don’t think it’ll happen.”