HS2 eastern leg to be axed as Government to announce £96bn substitute plan

The eastern leg of HS2 looks set to be scrapped and replaced with a £96bn investment from the Government that it says will deliver quicker journey times a decade earlier than its high-speed counterpart.

Ahead of the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) later today – 18 November – the Department for Transport has revealed what it is calling the biggest-ever public investment that it says will “transform” journeys between the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West.

The decision to scrap the HS2 that would have run from Birmingham to Leeds has angered some, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps repeatedly said the Government was committed to the project.

The IRP, says the Government, will deliver journey times which are “the same as, similar or faster” than the original HS2 and Leeds-Manchester proposals, while “doubling or trebling” capacity – although there is scant evidence of this latter claim ahead of the Plan’s publication later today.

The Government is also expected to put money aside to explore setting up a tram service for Leeds and spend £360m on contactless ticketing across commuter rail networks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “If we are to see levelling up in action now, we must rapidly transform the services that matter to people most.

“That’s why the Integrated Rail Plan will be the biggest transport investment programme in a century, delivering meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly – with both high-speed journeys and better local services, it will ensure no town or city is left behind.”

Shapps said: “Throughout the pandemic, we stood by our railway and invested billions to keep the country moving, and we are about to unleash a £96 billion programme of investment that will transform a Victorian network into one befitting a modern country.

“The Integrated Rail Plan is designed to deliver for everyone, much sooner than under previous plans for rail schemes drawn up a decade ago, which no longer fit the way we travel today.

“Our plan will deliver a network that is fit for passengers today and for future generations – a network that works for every community and every passenger, right across the UK.”

The IRP was drawn up after the Government says it became clear that the full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail schemes as originally proposed would not enter service until the early to mid-2040s.

In February of last year, Boris Johnson announced in the House of Commons that he was giving his backing for the whole of the HS2 high speed line to go ahead.

This was just days after a damning report by National Audit Office chief Gareth Davies said the Department for Transport, HS2 Ltd and the Government had all underestimated the complexity and risk of the project, with total costs spiralling to as much as £88bn.