Thank you for that introduction James (James Bethall, Westbourne Comms).
And thank you also for asking me along.
I can’t stress enough the importance of the work the Alliance does to build up a coalition of support for HS2.
We value your support for HS2 and we need other organisations to continue make the case for HS2 in a positive manner.
Your efforts are highly regarded and greatly appreciated, so it’s a genuine pleasure to be with you all this evening.
The only game in town
Isaac Singer, the Polish-American author and Noble Prize winner, once told a journalist: “We have to believe in free will. We’ve got no choice”.
Well, that’s pretty much how I feel about high speed rail.
You see, I’m convinced that a high speed rail network won’t simply transform the way we travel in Britain, it will also transform the way we live, work and do business.
And transform it for generations.
I’m also one hundred per cent certain that opting out of a high speed future would be a disaster for Britain, a missed opportunity we’d regret for decades.
So, for me, there’s only one choice that makes sense for our country’s success and our children’s future, and that’s HS2.
It really is the only game in town.
When it comes to the HS2 debate, we can talk about the line of route, design and technology or even mitigation measures and compensation packages.
And all of these things matter.
But it’s also vital that we never ever lose sight of the bigger picture - the long-term potential of HS2.
And in the brief time I have tonight, that’s what Id like to focus on.
Take HS2’s economic potential:
It will mean faster journey times, more capacity and better connected cities and regions - which, in turn, means that British businesses will be able to use it to exploit new markets and win new customers both at home and abroad.
It will also create and support tens of thousands of jobs.
In other words, HS2 can help to power up the recovery and put people back to work.
HS2 will help to close the decades’ long north-south divide.
It will help to open up access to employment opportunities and essential services like education and health for millions of people.
So, in a very real sense, a high speed rail network is as much about delivering better life chances as it is about getting from A to B.
For me then, HS2 makes economic and social sense.
But I can also see a persuasive environmental case for it.
And that’s because I really do believe that HS2 will offer people and businesses a high speed, low carbon alternative to short-haul flying and long-distance motoring.
Willing to accept, unwilling to postpone, determined to meet
So when I look at the bigger HS2 picture I don’t just see an investment in a high tech, high capacity, high speed rail network.
I see an investment in a stronger economy, a fairer society and a cleaner and greener environment.
And that’s why it has my full on and flat commitment.
Yes, I know that building high speed rail will be a test of Britain’s energy and skills. And yes, I know this challenge is as big as they come.
But I also know this country - its people and its companies, its spirit and resolve.
And that’s why I am absolutely convinced it’s a challenge that we in Britain are willing to accept, unwilling to postpone and determined to meet.
Okay, when I first started out in politics I was told that the golden rule of public speaking was exhaust neither the subject nor the audience.
Well, down the years I’ve discovered another rule - never keep an audience from their dinner.
So, ahead of our dinner and discussion, it only remains for me to say thank you for listening and here’s to a night of good food and great conversation.