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“To change the conversation, we have to change who is part of it”

HS2 -Where are the people?

HS2 is a story that has dominated the news over the last few years; is it going ahead? How much will it cost? High Speed verses Crossrail, how much time would it save?

The list goes on. Recently it has made a re-appearance in the news as its future looked at risk, and we saw many of the Northern leaders such as Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram express their disappointment with this, as once again it looked as though the North was due to miss out on something that had been promised.

Although there were dozens of newspaper articles and hundreds of tweets sent by Northern professionals on the subject over the last few weeks, there has been a distinct lack of public voice and opinion surrounding HS2.

Last week, I was in the Limelight Centre in Trafford, a brilliant centre in the heart of the community, used by many residents from the surrounding area. Whilst I was there, I took the opportunity to ask some of the people visiting the centre what they thought about HS2. The point of this wasn’t to prove HS2 right or wrong, or to conduct a huge sampling of public opinion on the topic, it was merely to talk to real people about something that had hit the headlines over the previous few days.

I simply asked the question, ‘what do you think about HS2?’ and allowed the conversation to flow from there. Of course, the replies were in some cases exactly what you might expect, and pretty much representative of the many conversations and opinions we will have all read on social media. A couple of people saying that they believed HS2 was a huge opportunity and that it was something the North needed, and that the government should deliver on its promise. On the other end of the spectrum there were a couple of people who thought it was a huge waste of money that would be better spent on the NHS or other local services.

However, most people’s response to the question ‘what do you think about HS2?’ was ‘What’s that?’ When I followed up with a more detailed explanation, they were still none the wiser, many stating that they had never heard of it. Piccadilly train station is at the centre of the debate about HS2’s future and yet people sat less than 2.5 miles away have no idea what it is.

HS2 is a prime example of a central government plan, backed by Northern leaders and big businesses that has seen very little, if any, attempt to bring people into the discussion.

If we are truly aiming to ‘level up’, ‘power up’ or ‘unleash’ the North, then there needs to be a fundamental shift in thinking about what people have to offer to that debate. It is simply not good enough for a selected few in Westminster and a hand full of Northern city leaders to be the only voice in that conversation, or any conversation about the future of the North.

So, I would ask the question; ‘HS2 love it or hate it; where are the people?’

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* These blogs are a collection of thoughts and opinions from people living or working in the North. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the People's Powerhouse.

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