Johnson promises UK government will consider Leeds HS2 extension
Boris Johnson has insisted the Government will investigate ways of extending HS2 to Leeds amid anger over an expected scaling back of railway plans for the North. The Department for Transport (DfT) will, on Thursday November 18th, publish its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) featuring GBP96 billion of investment in the Midlands and the North which is expected to show major revisions to previously announced goals. While the Government has touted the programme as part of its move towards levelling up the country, it is expected to confirm the eastern leg of HS2 will be scrapped between the East Midlands and Leeds, savings tens of billions of pounds.
Concerns have also grown over expected work on east-west connections across the North, known as Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), which are likely to involve upgrades to existing infrastructure rather than a new line between Manchester and Leeds. Writing in the Yorkshire Post, the Prime Minister said the Government’s planned investments would still mean “faster journeys, to more places, more quickly” for Yorkshire, while confirming a new study to plan how best to eventually link Leeds to the HS2 network. The Post reported the IRP was expected to confirm the HS2 route to Leeds would be axed in favour of a Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway line.
High-speed trains would travel on slower track to Sheffield, meaning HS2 trains would reach Yorkshire but the high-speed line itself would not, the paper said. In his column, Mr Johnson wrote: “HS2 will come to Sheffield, meaning a trip to or from London will take just one hour 27 minutes – precisely the same as under the old HS2 plans. “We’ll look at how to get HS2 to Leeds too, with a new study on the best way to make it happen.
“But high-speed rail is grindingly slow to build. Under the original blueprint, first drawn up more than a decade ago, Yorkshire would have not have seen the benefits of our investment until at least the 2040s. Levelling up can’t wait that long.
And towns like Wakefield, Doncaster, Dewsbury and Huddersfield would have suffered as trains were taken off the existing main lines.” The DfT insisted it will “transform” journeys to and between the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West, with benefits delivered “up to 10 years sooner”. It said in a statement that “the full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail schemes as originally proposed would not enter service until the early to mid-2040s”.
One of the aims of the IRP was to increase capacity and have more frequent services “in a way that presented value for money for the taxpayer”, according to the department. “From London and across the Pennines, the IRP delivers journey times which are the same as, similar to or faster than the original HS2 and Leeds-Manchester proposals, while doubling or trebling capacity and ensuring passengers and consumers benefit from tangible changes more quickly.” However, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said while he had not yet seen details of the revised plans he and “a lot of worried people across the north of England” were concerned they flew in the face of the Government’s levelling up pledges.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Wednesday evening, Mr Burnham said: “We believed we were promised a new line between Manchester and Leeds via Bradford. “That is what the north of England believes is needed, and this is the point, isn’t it – if you’re going to level up this part of the world, if you’re going to level up the north of England with the south-east of England particularly, you have to unlock its full potential and that means bringing forward your best solution, not a cut price solution. “So we’ll wait to look at the details but I think there are a lot of worried people across the north of England tonight.”
Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, the Tory MP for Newark in Nottinghamshire, concurred, telling the programme: “I think if NPR doesn’t go ahead there will be legitimate disappointment because I think that in the long run will be a false economy for the Midlands and the North together.” Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, has accused Mr Johnson of “pulling the whole damn rug from under our feet and ripping up the floor behind him”. The Government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned in 2018 that the final bill for the entire Y-shaped network of HS2 could reach GBP106 billion.
Phase 1 will run between London and Birmingham, and Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe. Phase 2b was due to extend the line between Crewe and Manchester, and between Birmingham and Leeds, although the later stretch is expected to be curtailed. Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, accused the Government of using “smoke and mirrors” while putting NPR “in the bin”.
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