Council leaders demand early start to HS2 eastern leg

Political leaders in the North and the Midlands are demanding an early start to HS2 as new research shows the eastern leg of the line could create up to 150,000 jobs.

They are pressing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to back his pledge to “build better, faster, greener” by clearing the way for Phase 2b east of the high-speed network to begin ahead of schedule as they seek to revive regional economies in the wake of COVID-19.

New figures show that the area linking Leeds and the East Midlands has seen a £58bn shortfall in infrastructure funding over the past decade when compared to Greater London.

Leaders in Leeds and Nottinghamshire also say their economies are missing out on billions in potential every year because they struggle with unreliable and overcrowded trains and communities cut off from good transport links.

The Labour leader of Leeds City Council, councillor Judith Blake, and the Conservative leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, councillor Kay Cutts MBE, have joined forces to demand that government enables work to start early on Phase 2b of the high-speed line.

In a letter to 10 Downing Street, they say early investment in new infrastructure is critical to government achieving the goals implied by its levelling up agenda.

Councillor Blake said: “Making more of the economic potential of the UK’s regions is going to be critical to the nation’s future growth as we seek to both recover from the impact of COVID-19 and confront the challenges of the future.

“But it will not be possible if we continue to rely on failing rail infrastructure which was built more than a century ago. We now need government to reverse historic under-spending and unleash the economic capacity of city regions like Leeds and counties like Nottinghamshire.”

Councillor Cutts said: “The Prime Minister has quite rightly identified infrastructure as a key mechanism for levelling up the country.

“Our strategy goes further than high-speed trains. We have developed detailed plans to make sure the benefits of HS2 extend to people at community level. So, this is our route to future prosperity for everyone and the sooner we start building the better.”

Cutts added: “Improved connectivity is going to bring people and businesses closer together so that those living in towns as well as cities can get access to good jobs. It is also going to help us deliver more training, more homes and more business developments.

“If we follow through on these plans there is potential to bring an additional 74,000 jobs to the East Midlands alone. For the sake of our communities, we need to get on and level-up.”

The two leaders have also told Boris Johnson they are confident that connecting their regions to a new high-speed network would turbocharge his levelling-up agenda by unleashing a new era of growth.

They have developed comprehensive plans for a web of new connections alongside HS2 – including Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Engine Rail – which would help overcome transport poverty and expand the labour market – tackling some of the labour supply problems that have constrained business growth in the past.