Government orders halt to work on the North East section of HS2
Work on the eastern leg of the High Speed Two rail line has stopped, the project’s chief executive has admitted. Officials are busy preparing plans to extend the HS2 line north west to Manchester, but they have been told by the Department for Transport to halt work on the planned section between Birmingham and the East Midlands, and onwards to Leeds. HS2 Chief Executive Mark Thurston said: “We wait to be guided by the Department on what we do with the eastern link.”
The comments are likely to infuriate mayors and council leaders across the North, who are due to discuss the continued delay in getting an answer about the Government’s plans for the high speed rail line when Transport for the North (TfN), the north’s transport authority, holds a board meeting on July 27. : Boris Johnson announces vaccine passports The HS2 network will run between London and Birmingham, with track continuing north west to Crewe and into Manchester.
The original plan also included track running north east from Birmingham to the East Midlands and into Yorkshire. High speed trains were due to switch to conventional track near York, and run on to Newcastle in the North East. But the Government has ordered a review of the scheme, with a decision to be published in a document called the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands.
This was due to be published by the end of 2020, but has been delayed. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted the Government will build the whole of HS2. He told the House of Commons in February: “I can certainly confirm that we are going to develop the eastern leg as well as the whole of the HS2.”
Mr Thurston told a House of Commons inquiry that High Speed Two Ltd, the Government-owned company building the network, had initially worked on the North West section and North East sections of the line as a single project. They are known collectively as phase 2b of the network. But he told the Commons Transport Committee: “At the moment we are only working on phase 2b west.
We are only focused on that. The company has been asked by the Department to focus on the route into Manchester and the eastern leg will play out in the fullness of time. We expect it to be part of the Integrated Rail Plan.
“We are focused on producing a budget and a plan, working on the hybrid Bill to get Royal Assent somewhere around 2024 or 2025, subject to parliamentary timetables, for the section to Manchester.
That is where our focus is at the moment. The company is not doing any work on anything else at the moment.” He said the original plan “was that phase 2 was going to be done as one integrated project – the whole railway north of Crewe into Manchester and from here in the West Midlands all the way through the East Midlands to Leeds.
That is not now playing out that way. “We are taking the western link now as a very discrete project and we wait to be guided by the Department on what we do with the eastern link.” Responding to the comments, Transport for the North Interim Chief Executive Tim Wood said any delay building the eastern leg of HS2 would also put a planned new cross-Pennine network called Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) at risk.
He said: “HS2 and NPR are two parts of a whole. NPR relies on 80km of HS2 line, both eastern and western leg. The NPR line linking Sheffield and Leeds is largely comprised of HS2 track.
“To lose HS2’s eastern leg would mean NPR going back to the drawing board to deliver connectivity between these great cities, importing more delay and cost into NPR. “Instead of levelling up the North it would leave it lopsided between the west of the Pennines and the east. We don’t need either/or, we need both.”
In another sign that the eastern leg of HS2 is unlikely to go ahead, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, a Conservative, told MPs that he believed it would be delayed indefinitely. Asked what he expected to see in the Integrated Rail Plan, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street told the Commons Transport Committee: “An absolute commitment to the western leg of phase 2b. I am realistic that there will probably be a serious delay in the eastern leg of 2b.
I believe the Government will still commit to doing it but will not be specific about the timing of when.” The mayor has campaigned vocally in the past for the whole of HS2 to be built, but he appeared to admit defeat as he told the MPs: “Let’s be honest, we all know that the Government have to make an incredibly difficult decision about priorities. “I think I have been as vociferous as anybody in this kingdom in arguing for the full HS2.
People have accused me of all sorts of things, but we have to face the reality that we now have, which is that difficult decisions have to be made.”
The first phase of HS2, running between London and Birmingham, is due to open by 2033 and will be within its budget of GBP35bn, including GBP10bn contingency, Mr Thurston told MPs.
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