Conference gives voice to fears that without strong transport links the regions could find themsleves economically isolated

High speed Javelin train at Ashford station, HS2

Source: TheJRB

Fears were raised over the government’s commitment to the HS2 rail link at last week’s BCO conference. Delegates warned a U-turn would leave regional cities at risk of being marginalised with the country’s commerce and skilled workers being even more concentrated in London and the South-east.

The conference emphasised that prosperous cities are vital to the UK’s continued role as a major global player, and regional hubs such as Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham were therefore high on the agenda.

Andrew Carter, director of policy and research at the Centre for Cities, said: “Before the recession, for every 10 new jobs created in the south, one was created in the north. Birmingham has lost 61,000 jobs in the last decade. This is something we really need to think about.”

Better transport links, specifically HS2, will be vital in closing the economic gap between London and the regions, according to Manchester council boss Sir Howard Bernstein and journalist Matthew Parris.

Parris warned the conference: “We are heading back to the 18th century when London was all there was. Once you got to London in 1712, it was convenient to stay. It’s the same in 2012. We need HS2.

“It won’t create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the first instance but it will in the end - all over the UK. HS2 should have been mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. Everyone should be alarmed that it wasn’t.”