Despite the shadow of Brexit looming over London, the city was named Europe’s top economic performer by the Milken Institute late last year. It’s a true economic powerhouse the north hasn’t matched yet, but that could be about to change with HS2 and the lucrative construction contracts awarded to build it.
Creating an economy aligned in its growth is the reason behind building a Northern Powerhouse, and HS2 is the big project fuelling it. HS2 aims to connect eight of Britain’s largest cities (Birmingham, London, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Glasgow) to create a more united and cohesive economy.
New construction activity
HS2 is already influencing investment in major connected cities with areas around key stations and lines seeing renovation.
Birmingham will see the initial development of the line that encompasses Curzon Street Station. Leeds train station will be redeveloped to form a hub for existing and new regional railway services. Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport will be linked, providing a launchpad for growth in Greater Manchester. In every connected city, you can name at least two construction projects as a result of HS2.
It’s easy to see why the government is pushing so hard for it. HS2 will help unlock untapped potential in the north, be a catalyst for economic growth, and provide people with greater job opportunities. It is an essential component to the Northern Powerhouse project because it connects everything together.
Closing the construction gap
Something HS2 can’t account for is the labour gap in the construction industry. The Government has a target of building 250,000 new homes a year and 350,000 construction workers need to be employed to make that happen. The workforce stands at 200,000 now, which means the workforce is 55% smaller than it needs to be. According to EY the workforce is predicted to decline by 7,000 in the next 5-years.
What this means for HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse project is simple: no one really knows where the labour is going to come from. Brexit has thrown another spanner into the works, as EU workers (figures show 28% of builders in London are EU nationals) remain unsure about their legitimacy to live and work in the UK after Britain leaves the EU.
Whatever the case, the skills shortage and lack of capacity in the construction sector is a highly complex issue with no immediate answer. However, the HS2 project is running and is set to bring a massive economic boost for the north and the Midlands by increasing productivity and creating new business opportunities.