Decision to axe HS2’s eastern leg faces fierce criticism

The fallout from the Government’s confirmation that the eastern leg of HS2 will not go ahead is continuing to spread, with Yorkshire leaders condemning the decision despite assurances the county will not miss out completely.

The Government has insisted passengers in Yorkshire will see real, tangible improvements to rail services this decade, thanks to its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), but senior representatives across the region are unimpressed.

Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin called the announce a “betrayal” of the Goverment’s Levelling up promise adding that “the Government has not listened to Northern voices and instead brought forward their own plans that mean HS2 stops short of Yorkshire, and the new high speed from Manchester line stops at its border.”

She added that after a decade of work the “Government is still working out how to connect Leeds” and has left “the great city of Bradford on a branch line to the national network”.

Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said he and his colleagues had been left “extremely disappointed and frustrated” by today’s announcement.

He said the Government has only offered more studies, reviews and uncertainty for high-speed connections to Leeds.

“This is not the first time our city has been promised major infrastructure investment, only for it to be curtailed or cancelled,” he said.

“It is 10 years this month since the Transpennine Route upgrade was announced, yet we are still waiting for the fully-defined scheme, and it is 30 years since the idea of a ‘supertram’ was first mentioned.

Councillor James Lewis

“So we will reserve judgement on delivery until we see spades in the ground.

“The Leeds-Sheffield connection is the most advanced and shovel-ready section of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), and will bring immediate benefits between two core cities along with benefiting many communities in between by freeing up capacity on local routes.

“We already know there is no capacity to bring more trains into Leeds from the West and no more land available either.

“We are calling for the Leeds to Sheffield work to be fast-tracked and delivered without delay whilst the Government carries out yet more studies or reviews.”

Bradford Council leader, Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, pointed out Bradford is Britain’s seventh largest city with nearly a quarter of its population under the age of 16.

She said: “For just £30m over the next three years from Government we would have been able to accelerate our plans to connect to the mainline rail network for the first time in our history.

“Many of those plans – which were years in the making – are based around the new station and the wider Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which the prime minister personally promised to deliver.

“The Government has just missed a golden opportunity to make an investment which would have repaid itself many times over by creating 27,000 new jobs in Bradford and delivering £30bn in economic benefits for our district over a decade.

“But we’re not going to take no for an answer. It’s wrong-headed economics for the North and for the country not to connect Bradford so we will fight on.”

Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe

Reaction from the region’s chambers of commerce has been scathing.

Chair of West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Amanda Beresford, said: “After 11 years of campaigning for improved rail connectivity both within and across our region, today’s announcements are extremely disappointing and will call into question just how serious this government is, on its levelling up promises.

“At their heart, HS2 and NPR are not just transport projects, they are the game-changing backbone of the levelling-up agenda when taken in the spirit of the original vision.

“It is well established that great infrastructure is the backdrop to improved productivity and accessibility.

“It plays a pivotal role in allowing the incredible talent that exists around our country reach its true potential.

“It must also be recognised that without effective, accessible transport for all, we will remain hamstrung in our ability to achieve our commitments to the climate change agenda, which has been widely debated in recent weeks.

“Government must recognise we are still benefiting from the Victorian infrastructure and foresight delivered nearly two centuries ago.”

Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Henri Murison said that while the IRP was a “huge moment for the North” and welcomed the new line to Marsden, he noted the lack of a full new line across the Pennines will “dramatically reduce the capacity and potential for rapid economic growth.”

Adding: “The complete failure to deliver the Eastern leg of HS2 in the North is a major blow – another review is not what the North has consistently and coherently called for. We will continue to fight for HS2 in the North, which needs to be a phased project starting with a brand new line from Leeds to Clayton, alongside the immediate electrification of the conventional line between Leeds and Sheffield.”

President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, Mike Briffett, said: “To make a decision of this magnitude, with little or no consultation, at this point, on a matter of national infrastructure is flawed and the missed opportunity will be realised by the next generations who will question our foresight and ambition

“If alternatives are to be ‘suggested’ then we must see rapid progress – we simply cannot keep going through this process again only for the rug to be pulled out in another ten years, resulting once again in us going back to square one – that is not how to plan infrastructure, and that is not how you level up the North.”

President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, Victoria Wainwright, said the Government’s decision would undermine Bradford’s bounce back following the pandemic.

“Despite being Britain’s youngest city, access to opportunity for many is restricted and at a time when many firms are struggling to recruit, it makes little sense for Government to scale back plans to improve labour market flexibility,” she said.

“Whilst our Victorian forefathers invested heavily in rail infrastructure, fuelling the industrial revolution, the legacy to Bradford of being at the end of two branch lines rather than on a mainline route has restrained the city from achieving its full potential.

“Bradford Chamber would call on Government to not repeat the same mistakes of the past in failing to rectify this.”

President of York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Laurence Beardmore, said: “At heart, HS2 and NPR are not transport projects, they serve as Levelling Up game changers.

Barry Sheerman and Kevin Hollinrake

“The point is not a faster way to get to and from London, it is a rebalancing of the UK’s economy.

“If Government is to realise their ambitions to deliver transformative change to cities like York, a city home to many outstanding public and private institutions, infrastructural investment is not an option, but a necessity.”

Also reacting to the publication of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan, the co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire, Barry Sheerman MP and Kevin Hollinrake MP said: “Whilst new investment in rail infrastructure is to be welcomed, today’s plan does not go far enough for our region.

“Failing to commit to a completely new high-speed line right across the north ignores the urgent need to increase rail capacity on Transpennine routes, alongside improving travel times.

“The decision to cut Bradford out of the equation altogether when it comes to links to Manchester and no plans to improve lines out of Hull are a further blow for the region.”

The All Party Group says it is writing to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps MP, calling on him or a ministerial colleague to address the Group on the Government’s plans “as a matter of urgency.”

In addition a letter has been sent to the Prime Minister signed by all of the North’s metro mayors as well as many of the council leaders from across Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West raising their concerns with the latest plans and noting the “pared-back plan will not unlock the full potential of the North of England.”