Northern powerhouse?

Is HS3 all it's cracked up to be? Lee Wagstaff of Thornton and Lowe finds out

The future is set to be a bright one for the construction and engineering industries as it could vastly benefit from the development of HS3, a new high-speed rail link joining Northern cities.

As part of the government's long-term economic plan for the North, the HS3 line will cut travelling time almost in half, allowing commuters to travel between Leeds and Manchester in around 26 minutes, a reduction from the current time of around 55 minutes. The accelerated transport link could create a wealth of opportunities across the region, aiming to position the North as a powerhouse which will significantly boost the entire UK economy.

Speaking last year shortly after the government officially backed the HS3 plans, Transport secretary, Patrick Mcloughlin, said: “Our Northern cities are on the brink of an economic transformation and today’s report underlines how we can secure this by bringing those cities together to maximise the benefits of good transport links.”

Chancellor George Osborne also added that: “On the back of new transport infrastructure, science investment and civic leadership, we are well on our way to turning the Northern Powerhouse into reality.”

Of course, the plans are very much in their infancy and the controversial HS2 project - which will link the North and South - hasn’t even started yet. So, how will high-speed rail benefit the entire UK economy?

In recent years, Northern cities have been carving out a reputation for themselves as industry leaders in digital and technological expertise.

TechNorth, a major Northern Futures project released last year, was set up to co-ordinate the existing digital and tech capabilities of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and the North East (Newcastle, Sunderland and the Tees Valley) tech economy. TechNorth aims to shine the spotlight on these cities, but needs support from large inward investors.

Large inward investments could have a significant impact for many of the smaller businesses operating in the North, creating thousands of new job opportunities. The introduction of new businesses will increase the demand for greater construction projects, including new buildings and offices. The addition of MediaCityUK in Salford created huge growth opportunities for Manchester, the TechNorth initiative hopes to inspire a similar influx of new opportunities within every Northern region.

The added support from inward investors will see businesses flourish, therefore creating greater opportunities for growth. New growth and a growing population in certain areas will stimulate the demand for more housing and an increase in service-driven spaces such as bars and restaurants.

The construction industry will boom to meet the changing circumstances, for the first time in years there will not only be the demand for new projects to commence but the HS3 rail link will make it easier for companies to recruit employees for new jobs, and therefore fill the gaps that ongoing skills shortages are creating.

Chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said: “As I said when I launched the National Infrastructure Plan, excellent infrastructure is essential if we are to build a stronger economy and fairer society. And to deliver world class infrastructure requires that as a nation, we ‘think big’.”

Innovative and exciting construction projects will further encourage outsiders from other areas to come to the North and circulate their wealth.

A report published by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation claimed that the labour market is becoming highly competitive as the shortage of skilled workers increases. Employers are already having to increase their salary offerings in order to attract candidates with engineering, construction and technology backgrounds to join their workforce.

However, candidates aren’t only interested in an increasing salary, due to the labour shortage workers can afford to be particular about certain aspects of their job, choosing those in desirable locations, with better hours and easier commutes. In the past, skilled workers from across the country would be reluctant to consider jobs in the North, due to the longer commute, but the HS3 rail link could really bridge the gap between further parts of the country.

A lucrative new project funded by inward investors is the dream of many a construction company. As current plans for the HS3 are set to commence over the next decade, construction companies hoping for a piece of the pie will have to tender their bids fast to be in with a chance of securing such a valuable contract.

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